Biden's team asks CEOs how to further stimulate the economy, while Trump says things are on his side

WASHINGTON — On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden likes to take a hard line on corporate America.

Democrat tells voters companies should pay more taxes and blames many companies for fueling higher prices by price gouging “greedflation” And “shrinkflation.”

But in recent months, top Biden administration officials have also stepped up their outreach to CEOs and other business leaders, asking for what they need. The effort is making its way into the business world former President Donald Trumpthe presumptive Republican nominee, considers it his home base.

Both candidates want to send the message to voters at the beginning of November that they can work with employers, even though the fiercely divided electorate has made many companies reluctant to publicly take political sides.

The Biden team's pitch to business leaders goes something like this: We think the economy is doing well, but we want to hear from you about how we can stimulate investment.

“They know they will always be heard,” he said Laël Brainard, director of the White House National Economic Council. “We are pragmatists. We solve problems for them.”

On Thursday, Trump will present his case to the Business Roundtable, an association of more than 200 CEOs, on why the economy would be better if he returned to the Oval Office.

Biden was also invited to appear, but he will be in Italy for a summit of world leaders of the Group of Seven. White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zientshimself a former CEO, will be present and pitch the president's vision to the group.

Biden has long sought to balance the interests of companies and workers, tempering his criticism of corporations by noting that as a former senator from Delaware, he comes from the “corporate capital of the world.”

Trump, in turn, has burnished his reputation as a billionaire real estate developer, marketing everything from educational courses to steaks and ties, plus his namesake Trumpmedia & Technology Group trading in the stock market.

After cutting corporate taxes and promising to ease regulations during his term in office, Trump has drawn support from Wall Street billionaires like Stephen Schwarzman, who called him a “voice for change.”

The Washington Post reported that Trump has asked oil industry executives to help finance his campaign given the profits his administration would bring to them, a report the Trump campaign said was false.

Trump has described the US economy as terrible despite being at a low point 4% unemployment rate and rising stock market this year. His argument resonates with voters largely because of the 2022 peak in inflation, leaving many American adults pessimistic about the economy.

Karoline Leavitt, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, said that “business leaders and working families alike are longing for the return of these common-sense policies” such as tax cuts, deregulation and increased oil and natural gas production.

Biden's top aides heard a different view of the economy during their business outreach than what Trump is pushing. Administration officials say the CEOs they met are generally satisfied with the performance of the stock market and the economy as a whole, as inflation has eased without the recession some feared.

American business leaders, according to the Biden team, are looking for ways to maintain growth: there are not enough skilled workers to fill the available jobs. Government licensing must be streamlined. And they generally agree with the government's push to renew corporate taxes for research and development costs.

Multiple Biden administration officials said business leaders also expressed concerns about Trump, even though the discussions between the White House and the CEO were not specifically about the November election. The tariff increases championed by Trump could disrupt relations with trading partners and hurt business revenues. Stocks and bonds could plummet if Trump tries to gain control of politically independent agencies like the Federal Reserve, or if he undermines the rule of law that has been a foundation of American capitalism.

Biden's team's expanded reach came at Zients' insistence. The chief of staff gathered six other top executives at a dinner in February with the goal of implementing a strategy to speak more to CEOs and their predecessors.

Each official agreed to talk to ten CEOs. By the end of April, the group members had spoken to more than a hundred people. The outreach led to Biden meeting with eight CEOs in May, including the heads of United Airlines, Marriott, Xerox, Corning and Citigroup.

Deputy Finance Minister Wally Adeyemo said he left the talks because he was more aware of how the issues overlap. The government's sustainable energy policy was essential for the development of data centers used, for example, for artificial intelligence.

Adeyemo said the government has had some success in reducing the federal paperwork required for permitting, reducing processing times that can take up to two years. And with some workforce programs losing funding that was tied to pandemic-era federal aid, the administration is looking at whether companies can pick up the funding.

There is a common argument being made by the government that its plans are better for overall growth, which is good for profits in the long run.

“One of the things we don't do is pretend we agree with the business community on everything,” Adeyemo said. “We want feedback and we will continue to talk to you.”

At the Biden meeting, people familiar with the conversations said Brendan Bechtel, CEO of the Bechtel Group, a leading construction company, highlighted the shortage of skilled workers. Because companies can't hire everyone they need, some companies have to relinquish business in ways that limit their revenue.

Figures from the Ministry of Labor show that there are currently roughly 1.5 million more vacancies than unemployed people looking for work. And as vacancies have gone unfilled over the past year due to a shortage of workers, companies have withdrawn their vacancies. Manufacturing companies, for example, have 516,000 open jobs, compared to 647,000 a year ago.

The shortage reflects both the strong labor market and decades of education policies that favored universities, often neglecting the need for tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers and welders. The percentage of men aged 25 to 54 in the labor force has been declining for decades, and reversing this trend could bring millions of people back into the workforce.

“In the US, we entered a college-for-all mentality and other forms of skills development were downgraded,” says Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University.

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo has made it a priority to involve more women in the construction industry, and the success of her department's funding of efforts to revive domestic computer chip production could depend on the presence of a large pool of skilled employees. She said solving the problem depends on better partnerships with the companies that hire the people.

“You have to start with the employers — which may sound counterintuitive,” Raimondo said. “You go to the company and find out who they are going to hire, at what salary and what skills.”

Raimondo saw the problem in economic terms, because growth would be slower if companies did not have skilled workers. But she also sees it as a cultural and political issue. Voters should be optimistic that they will have access to the middle class, one of the promises Biden made as he sought a second term.

“People start to lose hope when they feel like there is no place for them in the economy,” Raimondo said.

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