Obama brings CEOs in for fiscal cliff talks

immelt chenault
GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, left, and American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault are among the CEOs scheduled to meet with President Obama Wednesday.

President Obama will meet with some unusual potential allies Wednesday -- CEOs of some of the nation's biggest companies.

It would be Obama's first public meeting with major CEOs since being re-elected, and it's expected to be tense. But he is also expected to find backing for some of the administration's positions ahead of negotiations with Congress on avoiding the fiscal cliff.

The fiscal cliff is the top economic issue facing the nation, and leaders of the largest companies have indicated 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.

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

The stakes are high for the president and Congress to find a consensus to avoid the fiscal cliff, which economists and CEOs agree would hurt 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: Obama tells labor he'll protect middle-class on taxes

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 Care 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.

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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 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).

Other CEOs invited to the White House are 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.

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