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Has Jeff Immelt Changed His Mind Since Calling Obama Anti-Business?

By Alex Seitz-Wald  

"Has Jeff Immelt Changed His Mind Since Calling Obama Anti-Business?"

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Signaling a shift to a new phase of the administration’s response to the nation’s economic woes,” President Obama announced that he is appointing General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head the new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The new council, which Obama will announce this afternoon, will replace a different outside advisory board currently headed by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who has been a close advisor to Obama but will now be leaving the White House. The new board will “focus its work on finding new ways to encourage the private sector to hire and invest in American competitiveness,” the White House said in a statement.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post published today, Immelt laid out his “blueprint for keeping America competitive,” which included growth in “[m]anufacturing and exports,” and a promotion of “free trade” and “innovation”:

There is no easy solution to “fix” the American economy. Persistent and high unemployment – and the pessimism it breeds – should not be accepted. We must work together to construct an economy that creates more opportunity for more people.

Immelt has adeptly led America’s fourth-largest corporation, pushing major investment in alternative energy and green technology, and would likely provide valuable insight to any president.

But he is interesting choice for this president, considering that Immelt has expressed some very negative sentiment about Obama in the past. At a dinner with Italian executives last July, as quoted by the Financial Times (behind paywall), Immelt remarked that business does not like the president, and the president does not like business:

Mr Immelt also had harsh words for Barack Obama, US president, lamenting what he called a “terrible” national mood and expressing concern that over-regulation in response to the global financial crisis would damp a “tepid” US economic recovery. Business did not like the US president, and the president did not like business, he said, making a point of praising Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, for her defence of German industry.

People are in a really bad mood [in the US],” Mr Immelt said. “We [the US] are a pathetic exporter…we have to become an industrial powerhouse again but you don’t do this when government and entrepreneurs are not in synch.”

GE later disputed Immelt’s remarks, saying they had “been taken out of context.”

The question is whether Immelt still believes that Obama is anti-business, even though, for example, the stock market has gained more under Obama than any president except for Franklin Roosevelt and Coolidge. If he has had a change of heart in the past seven months, then Immelt could be an excellent messenger for Obama. If not, then Immelt is an odd choice. Of course, “Immelt’s appointment comes as Mr. Obama has increasingly turned to people with close ties to the business sector for counsel.”

‹ The WonkLine: January 21, 2011

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