President Obama's role as mediator-in-chief in the recent budget battle has pundits saying he seeks to capture independent voters in preparation for the 2012 election. The position the President has been taking on regulation also helps him stake out the middle ground. And it may be working, at least to a degree. At a breakfast for reporters on Friday, Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, applauded President Obama for his efforts to reach out to the business community since the midterm elections. Donohue particularly expressed his appreciation for the speech Obama delivered at the Chamber headquarters in February. In that speech, President Obama pledged to improve transportation and communication networks, "invest in education" to develop a skilled workforce, eliminate unneeded regulations, and simplify the tax code. The Chamber's more friendly rhetoric marks a notable, even if possibly still symbolic, change. For the first two years of the Obama Administration, the Chamber disagreed over many of the administration's most important priorities. The Chamber opposed the President's call for financial services regulations and health care reform, for example. Before the midterm elections, the Chamber was apparently spending nearly $3 million a week to oppose student-loan legislation, credit-card reforms, and legislation aimed at workplace pay discrimination. Despite his comments on Friday, Donohue can still be expected to continue to press the Chamber's desire to reduce unnecessary regulations. Donohue urges policymakers to encourage economic growth by reducing "obstacles, uncertainties, and time delays" associated with the regulatory process. Obama's challenge in staking out the middle ground may be to avoid invigorating the extremes – both from outside and within the Democratic Party. Some conservatives criticized Obama's speech at the Chamber because it still emphasized big-government intervention. By contrast, some liberals expressed dismay that Obama met with and provided a forum for an organization seemingly dedicated to blocking his legislative agenda.
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