Business Leaders 'Encouraged' by Obama Talks

President Barack Obama walks back to the White House after his meeting with business leaders Wednesday.
President Barack Obama walks back to the White House after his meeting with business leaders Wednesday.

The CEOs of Boeing (BA), Honeywell International (HON) and United Parcel Service (UPS), among others, say they were encouraged by Wednesday's discussions with President Barack Obama about the U.S. economy and international competitiveness of domestic companies.

Eighteen CEOs met with Obama, including the heads of Google (GOOG), General Electric (GE) and Comcast (CMCSA). Obama and financial leaders spent more than five hours on Wednesday discussing topics such as government-funded incentives for employee training, improvements in trade agreements with other countries and a possible reduction in the tax rate on overseas profits.

"It all centered on competitiveness of our economy and the job creation that comes behind it," Boeing CEO James McNerney said in a CNBC interview.

The president vowed to try to make the government-business relationship more collaborative, the CEOs told CNBC. "There's an important recognition that business and government must work together," Honeywell CEO David Cote said in a separate CNBC interview. Meanwhile, UPS CEO Scott Davis and UBS (UBS) President Robert Wolf both characterized the discussions as "constructive."

Tax Package Remains Controversial

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But the CEOs were hardly unanimous in their support for the $858 billion tax package that the Senate passed the same day. The Senate on Wednesday agreed to extend tax breaks and unemployment benefits while cutting Social Security taxes. The bill, which Senate passed by a more than 4-to-1 margin, will now need to get approval from the House of Representatives, according to the Associated Press.

Tax cuts have been a point of contention between Obama and Republicans. The president wanted to increase capital-gains taxes while granting tax breaks for the middle class and for small businesses, while Republicans say ending any tax breaks -- even those for the highest earners -- would hamper the country's economic recovery.

The meetings Wednesday may have eased some of the tension. Boeing's McNerney told CNBC that "virtually all of the people in the room felt that it was a good step forward."

But not everyone agrees. Honeywell's Cote said that while the package may help the U.S. economy in the short term, it won't help the country's staggering debt levels, which will eventually take their toll on U.S. businesses. "That kind of compromise as an ongoing basis is going to sink us as a country," Cote told CNBC.

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