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Obama defends business agenda

From NBC's Athena Jones
President Obama defended his agenda in a speech to a group of business leaders on Wednesday, arguing that actions his administration has already taken had helped avert an economic collapse and policies it has proposed will spur growth and produce jobs.

The president told about 100 business leaders gathered at a hotel near the White House that he was not anti-business, that he would never stop listening to their concerns and their ideas and that he would never stop rooting for their success.

During the 40-minute speech, he argued the Recovery Act, the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the efforts to bail out US automakers, help stem foreclosures and unfreeze credit markets put the economy on a stronger footing. He said his proposals in the areas of education, energy and health care would help ensure America's ability to compete in the global economy and defended himself against charges of radicalism.

"Contrary to the claims of some of my clients -- uh, critics and some of the editorial pages, I am an ardent believer in the free market," Obama told the meeting of the Business Roundtable. "I want everyone in this room to succeed. I want your shareholders to do well, I want your workers to do well, I want you to do well, because I firmly believe that America's success in large part depends on your success."

Some of the administration's efforts to reform the way financial firms function, for instance by limiting the activities of banks, and to recoup TARP funds by charging a fee to those companies that benefited from the taxpayer rescue have to contributed to a view among some in the business community that the president is anti-business, an argument Republicans on Capitol Hill consistently make.

"We have arrived at a juncture in our politics where reasonable efforts to update our regulations, or make basic investments in our future, are too often greeted with cries of "government takeover" or even "socialism", Obama said. "And not only does that kind of rhetoric deny our history, but it prevents us from asking hard questions about the right balance between the private and public sectors."

A consistent message of the administration has been that government has a vital, but limited, role to play in laying the foundation for solid growth, by establishing strong rules of the road to govern business and industry and by making investments in education, infrastructure and energy. The president argues financial industry reforms are necessary to avoiding a repeat of the economic catastrophe that deepened the recession and cost millions of jobs, while allowing that the new regulations must be carefully crafted.

"If we don't pass financial reform, we can expect more crises in the future of the sort that we just saw. On the other hand if we design the new rules carelessly, they could choke off the supply of capital to businesses and families," he said.

Obama hailed the Senate's passage of a series of tax cuts for small businesses that hire more workers, calling it "an important step forward in putting more Americans back to work as soon as possible" and he said more must be done to help small businesses get access to credit.

Health care push
Previewing tomorrow's bipartisan summit on health care, the president said high health care costs were "an undeniable drag on our economy" and urged the support of the business communities.

"I know that there are many who have been skeptical of our reform efforts -- because in the wake of extraordinary measures that we took to rescue our economy, it's been an easy political tactic to characterize any effort at health reform as a "big government takeover," he said. "The truth is just the opposite."

He said his proposal would not eliminate private insurance or undermine the employer-based system, that it incorporated ideas from across the political spectrum and that it would reduce the deficit.

"Tomorrow, I look forward to a good exchange of ideas at the Blair House with some of the legislative leaders and I hope everyone comes with a shared desire to solve this challenge, not just score political points," he said.

Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke were also at the event.