- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2008

A day after Democrats achieved an across-the-board electoral victory, business leaders pledged Wednesday to work with the new Obama administration and Congress, emphasizing the need to solve the credit crunch and get the economy growing again.

The Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce all extended congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama, while laying out the priorities of the nation’s private sector.

Business leaders emphasized the immediate need to address the credit crisis and to reinvigorate the economy, even though the new administration will not take office for 11 weeks.

“Credit issues are at the forefront,” said NAM President John Engler at a Washington briefing. “Manufacturers are severely impacted by the credit squeeze. Companies with solid balance sheets, good credit histories and order backlogs cannot obtain routine financing.”

“Thawing the credit market” must be the first priority, said Business Roundtable President John J. Castellani on CNBC.

“Restoring the nation’s economic health must be our top priority,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue.

Both Mr. Engler and Mr. Donohue pledged to support quick confirmation of economic officials so the new administration can work quickly to end the financial crisis.

While acknowledging that Mr. Obama won “a mandate and a sweeping victory across the country,” Mr. Engler warned the new administration not to begin its relationship with manufacturers by quickly pursuing organized labor’s chief priority, the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The Obama-supported legislation, which easily passed the Democrat-controlled House in March 2007 but was stopped by a Republican filibuster in the Senate, would require an employer to recognize a union if a majority of workers signed cards supporting it.

Under current labor law, an employer can demand a secret-ballot election.

“This is not the time and certainly not the issue to build a relationship,” said Mr. Engler, a former three-term Republican governor of Michigan, who could not conceal his relief over the Democrats’ apparent failure to achieve a filibuster-proof majority of 60 senators.

The Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce and NAM strongly support the pending free-trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea, both of which are opposed by Mr. Obama, who also pledged during the campaign to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

“We’ve got to have access to the 95 percent of people who live outside the United States,” said Mr. Castellani of the Business Roundtable.

Mr. Engler was asked about Mr. Obama’s support for an economy-wide “cap and trade” program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. He said he hoped Mr. Obama would be encouraged by supporter Warren Buffett’s recent $4.7 billion investment in a company that operates nuclear reactors and plans to build more in the future.

“You can’t shut down coal, which provides half of our energy, without something to replace it,” Mr. Engler said.

Mr. Castellani noted the “daunting problems” Mr. Obama will face in January, then asked, “Can you imagine that the president-elect is going to be looking at all these problems in the context of a budget deficit that could reach $1 trillion?”

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