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President Obama asks Chamber of Commerce to hire

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Kai Ryssdal: There’s a big sign on the front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building in Washington. So big it was probably pretty tough for the president to miss as he paid a visit to the Chamber for his big speech this morning.

“JOBS” in billboard sized letters.

That pretty much summarized the common economic ground between the administration and the business community nowadays. So the president tried to offer a deal in his speech. I give you incentives — like tax breaks, say — you go out and hire people. Sounds simple.

Which of course means it’s not. Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer was at the speech and filed this report.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: The White House and Chamber of Commerce face each other across Lafayette Square. But they’ve been anything but neighborly. The president acknowledged they feuded over the health care and financial overhauls.

Barack Obama: If we had brought over a fruitcake when I first moved in, we would have gotten off to a better start. But I’m going to make up for it.

In lieu of fruitcake, the president said he’d work to cut corporate taxes, build new roads and bridges, and foster innovation. In return, the president said, U.S. businesses should hire new workers — now.

Obama: If there is a reason you don’t believe that this is the time to get off the sidelines — to hire and to invest — I want to know about it. I want to fix it.

But how do you fix intangibles, like businesses’ lack of confidence? Or that the most robust growth isn’t happening here? Cary Leahey is an economist with Decision Economics. He says companies aren’t hiring because:

Cary Leahey: No firm wants to stick its neck out thinking they’ll go back in the abyss in two years. So there is this understandable reluctance to do anything but sit on your hands.

Back at the Chamber of Commerce, Juliana Efessiou says she liked the speech. She owns a small consulting business. Did she hear anything that would make her hire somebody tomorrow? Well, no, she doesn’t have immediate hiring plans. But even if she did, she doesn’t think she could get a line of credit.

Juilana Efessiou: So I hope that those lines will be open and that small business will be able, with a sound business plan, to have banks invest in their businesses.

But economist Leahy says the there is only so much the government can do to instill confidence. And the Chamber’s chief lobbyist, Bruce Josten, isn’t sure exactly what the president will accomplish.

Bruce Josten: I am always hopeful to work with the White House and that they will act on their rhetoric.

But at least the two neighbors are talking again.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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