Top American CEOs struck a congenial tone following a Wednesday meeting with President Obama ahead of the resumption of negotiations with Congress over the country’s looming “fiscal cliff.”
Aetna President Mark Bertolini, who attended the meeting, told The Daily Rundown’s Chuck Todd that the president listened to the concerns of the business leaders who have for months watched Congress drag its feet on reaching a deal while waiting for the outcome of the election.
Bertolini said the president did not draw a “line in the sand” on fiscal negotiations.
“There was a support for revenue increases,” Bertolini added. “How we get there is yet to be determined.”
President Obama left little wiggle room during the press conference on how he would shore up additional revenue through raising taxes on the wealthiest of Americans. And though both parties have voiced a willingness to work together in crafting a plan prior to the end of the year when the combination of expiring Bush-era tax cuts and massive spending cuts launch the U.S. toward the so-called “fiscal cliff,” many CEOs left the meeting with cautious optimism.
“We were very clear that if we could help him to get to a solution we are absolutely behind him because going over the cliff is not something that any of us in the room could live with,” said Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox.
More than 80 CEOs coalesced prior to Election Day to apply pressure on Congress to come up with a plan that could “succeed both financially and politically.”
“I would say I am not convinced we won’t go off the fiscal cliff,” Honeywell CEO David Cote told CNBC following the meeting. “Because that requires two sides to agree, so I’m not convinced of that.”
President Obama has said he is only interested in raising taxes on the top 2% of Americans. Yet, WalMart CEO Mike Duke suggested that his store’s customer base, which he characterized as middle class Americans and those aspiring to join the middle class, is fearful of tax hikes.
“Our customers are working hard to adapt to the ‘new normal,’ but their confidence is still very fragile,” Duke said in a statement following the fiscal talks with the president. “They are shopping for Christmas now and they don’t need uncertainty over a tax increase.”