Thursday, February 25, 2010

President On Business, Government, Smart Energy & Climate Policy

Feb 24: President Obama gave a major address to the Business Roundtable to encourage cooperation from business leaders to promote economic recovery. He said, "I want to spend most of my time talking about the specific steps we need to take to build this more competitive America. But before I do, I want to talk a little bit about the relationship between business and government in promoting economic growth. Now, contrary to the claims of some of my critics and some of the editorial pages, I am an ardent believer in the free market. I believe businesses like yours are the engines of economic growth in this country. You create jobs.You develop new products and cutting-edge technologies. And you create the supply chains that make it possible for small businesses to open their doors. So I want everyone in this room to succeed. I want your shareholders to do well, I want your workers to do well, I want you to do well -- because I firmly believe that America's success in large part depends on your success internationally. . .
    He indicated, "I also believe this: Government has a vital, if limited, role to play in fostering sustained economic growth and creating the foundations for you to succeed.  Throughout our history, government has done so in three ways." He outlined: (1) "government has set up basic rules of the marketplace. . . these rules have been good for business, not bad, for they ensure honest competition and fair dealing and a level playing field." (2) "only government can make those investments in common goods that serve the general welfare but are too expensive for any individual or firm to purchase on their own." e.g. the Armed Forces is the most obvious example.  (3) "government has also provided a social safety net to guarantee a basic level of security for all our citizens." He said this function has become controversial in the last several decades and highlighted programs like Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and unemployment insurance but said, they "haven't just saved millions from poverty, they've helped secure broad-based consensus that is so critical to a functioning market economy."
    He said, "I take the time to make these points because we've arrived at a juncture in our politics where reasonable efforts to update our regulations, or make basic investments in our future, are too often greeted with cries of 'government takeover' or even 'socialism.' Not only does that kind of rhetoric deny our history, but it prevents us from asking hard questions about the right balance between the private and public sectors. . . So rather than hurling accusations about big-government liberals or mean-spirited conservatives, we're going to have to answer those tough questions.  And getting that balance right has less to do with big government or small government than it has to do with smart government. . ."
    He pointed out that, "One year ago, we were looking at the possible end of General Motors. Today, GM has increased production, is paying us back ahead of schedule. Yesterday, we learned they're hiring 1,200 more workers in their Lordstown, Ohio plant. One year ago, there was a chance we would lose most of the $700 billion we were given to rescue the financial system. Today, most of that money has been repaid. The financial fee we've proposed would recover the rest and close the books on government's involvement. . . "
    The President talked about laying the foundation for a more competitive America in part by investing in a 21st century infrastructure by expanded broadband access and health information technology, clean energy facilities and the first high-speed rail network in America. He also reminded that in the State of the Union, he set a goal of doubling our exports over the next five years, an increase he said will support 2 million jobs.
    On the issues of energy and climate change, the President said, "A competitive America is also America that finally has a smart energy policy. We know there's no silver bullet here. We understand that to reduce our dependence on oil and the damage caused by climate change, we're going to need more production in the short term, we're going to need more efficiency, and we need more incentives for clean energy. And already, the Recovery Act has allowed us to jumpstart the clean energy industry in America -- an investment that will lead to 720,000 clean energy jobs by the year 2012. To take just one example, the United States used to make less than 2 percent of the world's advanced batteries for hybrid cars.  By 2015, we'll have enough capacity to make up to 40 percent of these batteries.  

    "We've also launched an unprecedented effort to make our homes and businesses more energy efficient. We've announced loan guarantees to break ground on America's first new nuclear plant in nearly three decades. We're supporting three of the largest solar plants in the world. And I've said that we're willing to make tough decisions about opening up new offshore areas for oil and gas development. So what we're looking at is a comprehensive strategy, not an either/or strategy but a both/and strategy when it comes to energy. But to truly transition to a clean energy economy, I've also said that we need to put a price on carbon pollution. Many businesses have embraced this approach -- including some who are represented here today. Still, I am sympathetic to those companies that face significant potential transition costs, and I want to work with this organization and others like this to help with those costs and to get our policies right. 

    "What we can't do is stand still. The only certainty of the status quo is that the price and supply of oil will become increasingly volatile; that the use of fossil fuels will wreak havoc on weather patterns and air quality. But if we decide now that we're putting a price on this pollution in a few years, it will give businesses the certainty of knowing they have the time to plan for the transition.  This country has to move towards a clean energy economy. That's where the world is going. And that's how America will remain competitive and strong in the 21st century. . ."

Access a White House blog post summarizing the President's speech (click here). Access the President's complete speech (click here).