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Reaction From The Chamber Of Commerce

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Joining us is David Chavern, who is the executive vice president and COO of the Chamber of Commerce. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. DAVID CHAVERN (Executive Vice President and COO, Chamber of Commerce): Great. Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And first, what, if anything, in President Obama's speech today made members of the chamber feel better about the administration?

Mr. CHAVERN: Well, it was a good speech overall. I think the reaction was positive and, certainly, the core messages were something that our members fully understood: the importance of entrepreneurship, the importance of business and job growth. You know, overall, it was well done.

SIEGEL: What didn't you hear that you would have wanted to hear in the speech?

Mr. CHAVERN: Well, as with many speeches like this, it's not long on specifics, right? So we're - at the end of the day, as a general expression of attitude, it was great. But as we move forward, we'll have to see whether the proof is in the pudding in terms of the administration's engagement of business.

SIEGEL: Do you think the president's ideas of how to alter the tax code to make a better climate for business will coincide with the chamber's ideas?

Mr. CHAVERN: Yeah. We've been talking about the need for comprehensive corporate tax reform for a long time. In a sense, our current system is kind of the worst of all worlds: complex, full of strange and anti-competitive components. So, yeah, we'd be happy to work with him on that.

SIEGEL: President Obama spoke today of mutual responsibilities, the government's responsibility to improve the business climate and also the responsibilities of business. And he said to the members of the chamber, as you were there, ask yourselves what you can do to hire American workers, to support the American economy, and to invest in this nation.

Is that appropriate? Do you figure members need some prodding in that area?

Mr. CHAVERN: I don't think they need prodding. I think they want to invest, they want to hire. They don't yet see the circumstances where that's warranted.

You know, at the end of the day, business leaders feel like they do a social good. You know, they think that running a good business where you're hiring people and creating value for shareholders and for the economy is a good thing in and of itself.

SIEGEL: But is that a fair request from the president or, in the global economy, is a profit that's earned overseas, selling things that are made overseas just as valuable to American business as a profit made from something we've made in this country by workers who are from this country?

Mr. CHAVERN: Listen, American businessmen are also patriotic. Sometimes the most patriotic folks, right? They want us to have a prosperous and engaged economy. But the one thing we can't forget is that the world economy doesn't end at borders. The United States is part of a system of global economies that need to compete with each other.

Our goal - and what the president talked about today is how to make the U.S. the most competitive, the best place to do business. And then businessmen would be happy to invest here.

SIEGEL: Would the chamber welcome what the administration refers to as re-litigation, re-arguing health care reform and having this Congress be all about going after provisions of the health care law to try to repeal them?

Mr. CHAVERN: Listen, we had a serious disagreement with the administration on the health care bill, continue to have a disagreement, but we'd like to do whatever we can to help fix the health care system. If that means fixing the bill that was passed or getting a new bill that helps to drive down...

SIEGEL: Supporting repeal, for example?

Mr. CHAVERN: Support - we did support repeal. But, you know, we also knew that that was probably, as a practical matter, unlikely to come about so let's talk about fixes. Let's talk about how we can still address this unaddressed problem, which is escalating medical costs.

SIEGEL: And do you support repeal of the financial services law as well?

Mr. CHAVERN: Well, the - again, at the end of the day, we oppose that bill. I think we have a similar approach, which is let's work on fixes.

By the way, in the financial services bill, most of the action is still to come on the regulatory side.

SIEGEL: Given the Chamber of Commerce's, as you've described it, disagreement with health care and with financial services regulatory reform, is there actually a reparable relationship here with the Obama administration or have their major accomplishments been things that your group is simply dead set against

Mr. CHAVERN: Oh, there's certainly a - it's certainly a reparable relationship. I mean, we've already started working together on trade. The president talked today about infrastructure investment, which we are foursquare behind, education reform. There's a whole number of things that our members care about where we can work with the administration.

There are other things we're going to keep fighting about, you know, but such is life in Washington and we're just going to - you got to wake up every day and try to drive change for your members.

SIEGEL: Mr. Chavern, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. CHAVERN: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

SIEGEL: David Chavern is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.