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It's Not Enough to Be at the Table

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Henry Ford once said that coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress and working together is success. Throughout this period of economic uncertainty, the member CEOs of Business Roundtable have been at the table with the Administration and leaders in Congress to hammer out a solid path back to growth. In addition to significant efforts on a range of issues - from health care to financial regulatory reform - we've also offered our best advice as business leaders on how to create new jobs, encourage innovation and restore prosperity. We've worked together with our nation's policymakers from day one, and we've stuck with them though trying circumstances, alienating many of our traditional colleagues in the pursuit of this good faith effort to solidify a strong, job-rich economic recovery for all Americans.

We keep coming back to the table, but we're still waiting for policymakers to show they're truly willing to work together to get the economy moving. By Henry Ford's yardstick, we can hardly call this a success - and it's the American people who are left in the lurch. Some in Washington have even now taken to vilifying the very private sector that is offering a hand of cooperation, impugning our motives, and by extension, our employees, suppliers and customers.

Instead of following a coordinated, sustained approach that encourages investment and innovation, policymakers have dashed haphazardly from issue to issue, seemingly oblivious to the cumulative impact of their actions. Intentionally or not, they have pitted the public sector against the private sector, big business against small business, and one generation against the next. The end result has been a shaky, state-heavy jobless recovery, where long-term economic responsibility has been sacrificed to short-term political gain.

Our economy faces systemic risk, the combination of irresponsible spending and excessive, old-fashioned government interference on the one hand, and the failure to adopt rational tax, trade and regulatory policies on the other.

On taxes, American companies are saddled with one of the highest corporate rates in the industrial world and are subject to double taxation when selling U.S. goods and services abroad. By contrast, most of our foreign competitors simply pay taxes in the countries where they sell. Instead of promoting tax policies that encourage competitiveness for these companies, the House chose to pass a tax "extender" bill that will further raise taxes on American business competing in international markets - punishing the very firms that account for 63 million jobs and nearly half of our exports.

Our members are also increasingly frustrated by inaction on trade. We applaud President Obama's National Export Initiative to double our exports over the next five years - a goal that would create jobs and help businesses of all sizes. Tens of thousands of small businesses would benefit, for instance, as a critical part of the supply chain that supports and benefits from the sales large companies make overseas. But to make these sales, U.S. companies need access to overseas markets. While other nations aggressively pursue trade agreements that open markets to their goods and services, our policymakers dither, allowing politics to jeopardize pending agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. It is time to rise above partisanship and increase our exports to bolster international competitiveness and attract foreign investment.

Finally, financial regulatory reform is an area in which sound policy has been trumped by shortsightedness and score-settling. Proposals on derivatives and proxy access adopt a misguided one-size-fits-all approach that will eliminate practical risk-management tools and interject politics into the boardroom - exacerbating, rather than addressing, the short-termism that led to the financial crisis. Financial regulatory reform that increases efficiency and transparency is a key component in creating a healthy, long-term business environment - but we have to do it right.

Against this backdrop, businesses are acting cautiously, freezing investments and hiring until they understand how they will be affected by new mandates. They fear that many of the proposals under consideration will devastate American competitiveness, eroding our standing in the global marketplace and our standard of living at home.

Our recovery is now at a crossroads. Almost a year after a number of economists proclaimed the recession over, the unemployment rate approaches double digits, while our national debt exceeds $13 trillion. Although the economic picture has improved, our recovery remains fragile.

The time has come for a new course, a coherent and consistent strategy led by the ingenuity that can only come from America's dynamic private sector. We plan to develop an agenda focused on capital formation, exports, infrastructure, education and job creation. We invite policymakers to join us - we've come together and even kept together, now it's time to really start working together.

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