Unlikely corporate backers in battle over US taxes

Dec 13 2012, 03:30 IST
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SummaryA broad swathe of the US’ leading chief executives have dropped its opposition to tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, while the White House quietly pressed Wall Street titans for their support as well.

sessions with the president, updating them on the negotiations and reiterating the need for their support. Among the participants were Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs; Randall Stephenson, the chief executive of AT&T, and Marriott’s chief executive, Arne Sorenson.

Some chief executives, like Mr. Blankfein, who have been relatively outspoken in recent weeks about the need for tax increases, are viewed as relative liberals in the business community.

But others who reversed course Tuesday, like Doug Oberhelman of Caterpillar, are seen as more conservative politically and suggest an important shift in the political landscape in terms of tax policy.

Another more conservative executive who signed a letter to Congress and the president from the Business Roundtable was Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon.

“Compromise will require Congress to agree on more revenue — whether by increasing rates, eliminating deductions, or some combination thereof — and the administration to agree to larger, meaningful structural and benefit entitlement reforms and spending reductions that are a fiscally responsible multiple of increased revenues,” said the letter, signed by more than 100 chief executives.

Besides Mr. Cote, several other prominent chiefs joined the call with reporters organized by the Business Roundtable, including Andrew N. Liveris of Dow Chemical, Jeffrey R. Immelt of G.E. and Alexander Cutler of Eaton.

Small businesses also appear anxious about the fiscal impasse. On Tuesday, the National Federation of Independent Business reported that its Small Business Optimism Index had one of its steepest declines ever in November.

The net percentage of business owners who said they expected better economic conditions in six months — that is, the share that expected improvement minus the share that expected deterioration — was negative 35 percent. That is the worst outlook since the federation began collecting this data on a monthly basis in 1986.

Bill Dunkelberg, the chief economist at the federation, attributed the pessimism to the stalemate in Washington, higher health care costs and “the endless onslaught of new regulations.”

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