Obama-CEOs meeting expected to be tense

November 13, 2012: 9:54 AM ET
obama and immelt
GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt is among CEOs headed to the White House on Wednesday to talk about the fiscal cliff.
WASHINGTON (CNNMoney)

Top American CEOs will meet with President Obama on Wednesday to talk about the fiscal cliff.

Among those making the trek to the White House are General Electric (GE) CEO Jeffrey Immelt and American Express (AXP) CEO Kenneth Chenault.

It would be Obama's first public meeting with major CEOs since being reelected, and it's expected to be tense.

That's because the fiscal cliff is the number one issue facing the nation and leaders of the largest companies have indicated that they are holding back hiring and spending because they are worried about Washington gridlock over the fiscal cliff.

Moreover, some of these companies flexed their political muscle to defeat Democrats in the latest election.

The stakes are high for the president and Congress to find a consensus to avoid the fiscal cliff, which economists and CEOs agree would devastate the economy, taking down thousands of jobs and increasing taxes for millions of Americans.

At the end of this year, the George W. Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire, and on Jan. 2, automatic spending cuts will commence that amount to $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

Related: Labor to press Obama on tax hike for wealthy

Obama's relationship with big business has been strained over his first term thanks to new laws like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and Affordable Healthcare Act.

In 2011, Obama tried to mend things by appointing a jobs council to give him advice on growing the economy. But that group quietly fell by the way side and hasn't met since January.

The strain can be seen through the lens of campaign contributions. A majority of the large companies in the President's jobs council favored Republican candidates over Democrats in the latest election. General Electric's corporate political action committee gave $258,000 more to Republicans than Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Recently, Aetna Inc (AET) CEO Mark Bertolini told CNBC in an interview that the company could be forced to lay off employees if the country cannot avert the fiscal cliff. Bertolini is also in the list of CEOs invited to the White House meeting.

Corporate leaders are expected to press the President on issues confronting their companies related to tax cuts and revenue generating ideas tied to the fiscal cliff.

Despite the tension, Obama and business leaders are united in their goal of seeking a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Last week, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable and the Business Industry Political Action Committee, called upon the president and Congress to delay the fiscal cliff by a year. Those groups also called upon leaders to avoid raising taxes on anybody, including the nation's wealthiest Americans.

Also this week, a group backed by large companies like GE and Honeywell International (HON) called "Campaign to Fix the Debt" has launched million-dollar advertising to push Washington leaders to avert the fiscal cliff by mimicking well-known ads such as the "Got Milk" campaign from milk processors, and the "Just do it" ad from Nike (NKE).

CEOs invited by the White House also include Honeywell's David Cote, Xerox's (XRX) Ursula Burns, Wal-Mart's (WMT)Mike Duke, Dow Chemical's (DOW)Andrew Liveris, Ford's (F)Alan Mulally, Pepsico's (PEP)Indra Nooyi, IBM's (IBM) Ginni Rometty and Chevron's (CVX) John Watson.

Join the Conversation
Search for Jobs