What Business Can Expect from Obama

by: Matt Cooper

Matt Cooper reports from Denver: Like everyone else, business leaders are going to watch Barack Obama's address on Thursday night as he accepts the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. I think it's worth keeping in mind a few things.

The first is that we have the broad outlines of Obama's economic philosophy. As David Leonhardt in The New York Times argued and as I did earlier this year, Obama's got some basic liberal tendencies—higher taxes on wealthier earners, expanded government programs with some more market oriented ones. I don't think we'll get any new surprises tomorrow.

The more important point is that it may not matter what Obama says or promises now. If you listened to Bill Clinton in 1992 as he ran for president, you would have had some clues about his economic philosophy—for instance, his support of the NAFTA accords. But you also would have thought that he would push for huge worker retraining programs funded by a tax on business, and you would have thought that he'd implement a middle-class tax cut. After he was elected, of course, he abandoned both to take an approach that focused more on deficit reduction. My guess is that Obama could get pushed in different directions. He's already come out for a gimmicky windfall profits tax on oil companies. You might get more of that. If he has a big Democratic majority to work with, he's going to get pushed in a more leftward direction. He could also jettison a lot of his middle-class tax cuts, too.

In other words, you don't really know.

One thing you can be sure of, I think, is that Thursday's speech will be less ethereal than the speeches Obama gave in the primaries—less about the transformation of politics, and more filled with pragmatic talk about what's wrong with the economy and what he plans to do to fix it. He'll talk about shifting the tax burden to wealthier earners and giving middle-class families more of the tools they need from affordable health insurance to easier access to student loans.

In other words, expect nothing new from what's in his economic plan, but all laid out more specifically. Of course, middle-class voters like business leaders should know that it can all change pretty easily.