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Obama Looks To Businesses For Back Up In Budget, Debt Fights


That threat of a government shutdown or worse, default, is taking a toll on the country's businesses. Half of the CEOs surveyed by the Business Round Table say the gridlock in Washington is making them less likely to hire. Today, President Obama tried to enlist business leaders in a campaign to press Congress. Their message: Keep the government open and raise the debt ceiling. NPR's Scott Horsley has the story.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama told business leaders today he won't give in to extortion. That's his label for the GOPs demand that any increase in the debt limit come at the expense of his signature health care law.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What I will not do is to create a habit, a pattern whereby the full faith and credit of the United States ends up being a bargaining chip to set policy.

HORSLEY: Obama was speaking to the Business Round Table, a group of CEOs from some of the nation's largest companies. He asked them to use their influence to persuade Congress not to play chicken with the debt ceiling and run the risk of a disastrous government default.

OBAMA: This is the time for us to say once and for all, we can't afford these kinds of plays. I know the American people are tired of it. I'm tired of it and I suspect you are tired of it, too, because it's pretty hard to plan your businesses when these kinds of things are looming at any given moment.

HORSLEY: The White House notes the last time Congress toyed with the debt ceiling in 2011, the stock market plunged 17 percent. Consumer confidence tumbled to its lowest level since the start of the recession and hiring came to a virtual standstill. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, who chairs the Business Round Table, says his members are worried about a similar fallout this time around.

JIM MCNERNEY: There is no question that failure to reach an agreement on the debt limit would have significant impact on the U.S. economy. And we don't want that, for our employees, for our customers, for the country.

HORSLEY: Another business group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter to all House members today urging them to raise the debt ceiling and approve a stopgap budget measure to prevent a government shutdown next month. McNerney says the Business Round Table has been delivering a similar message to both Republicans and Democrats.

MCNERNEY: We've got to pressure both sides toward the middle because that's where they've got to go and someone's got to tell them that.

HORSLEY: But longtime Congressional observer Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution calls that bipartisan gobbledy-gook that obscures the real source of the hold up in Congress. Mann says it's not Democrats or even centrist Republicans who are blocking the budget measure or the hike in the debt ceiling. Rather, it's the Tea Party faction of Republicans and they have no allegiance to the Chamber or the Business Round Table.

THOMAS MANN: They could care less what business leaders think.

HORSLEY: Mann notes there are a number of areas where business leaders would like to see action from Congress, including immigration reform and public works spending. But they've been stymied by Tea Party opposition.

MANN: The kind of practical considerations that, you know, business people care deeply about are the furthest thing from the mind of those driving these showdowns.

HORSLEY: Business people did get one sign of stability today. The Federal Reserve announced it's leaving its monetary stimulus in place for the time being, noting that economic growth remains modest and the job market is still far from what it should be. The stock market jumped sharply on news from the Fed, even as the signals from the political arm of government remain far from reassuring. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.