December 8, 2010 6:41 pm

Business celebrates and eyes changes to reforms

US chief executives set their sights on rolling back financial and healthcare reforms and forestalling environmental regulations on Wednesday after celebrating the White House-led deal on tax cuts.

The Business Roundtable, a group of the heads of the biggest US companies that has criticised Barack Obama in the past, praised the president’s “willingness to learn”. Although Republicans took the House of Representatives in last month’s midterm elections, repeal of the two biggest reforms of the Obama administration is implausible, but businesses hope deals can be agreed to soften their impact.

“What we want to do is stop, take a breather, fix those things that won’t work the way they were intended to do,” said Ivan Seidenberg, chief executive of Verizon Communications and chairman of the business group. Calling for a “retool or a restart” on healthcare reforms, which extends insurance to more workers, he said: “The implementation is producing significantly higher costs than anticipated.”

But the accord between the White House and congressional Republicans to extend tax cuts beyond their planned year-end expiry and a free trade agreement with South Korea were praised. “The things that occurred in the past couple of weeks are extraordinary,” said Mr Seidenberg.

In a speech in New York, Michael Bloomberg, the city’s independent mayor, took the same tack – praising the tax deal, calling for more trade agreements and criticising the regulatory burden on businesses.

“Right now bureaucrats in Washington – at the direction of lobbyists – are writing thousands of regulations over the healthcare and financial services industries,” he said. “With billions of dollars at stake, this process has chilled economic activity.”

Any move to repeal healthcare reform would be blocked in the Senate and by the White House, but congressional Republicans are likely to make a symbolic attempt.

Key House Republicans, including Spencer Bachus, chosen on Tuesday by the party’s steering group as the next chairman of the financial services committee, have indicated they will take a different path for financial reform.

Mr Bachus has pledged to press regulators to use their latitude in writing rules to avoid burdensome regulations on businesses.

He has highlighted derivatives – an area raised on Wednesday by both the Business Roundtable and Mr Bloomberg – as an issue, saying the hedging instruments must not become more costly for non-financial companies.

Democrats see the regulatory agencies as crucial tools for enacting policies after their midterm losses.

The Business Roundtable, in its “roadmap for growth”, said an “avalanche . . . of new, more stringent regulations [from the Environmental Protection Agency] will create additional costs for both existing and new facilities and increase uncertainty”.

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