The President did not break major new substantive ground in his speech today to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  I assume the press coverage will instead focus on the optics and political framing – the President is reaching out to business leaders, no longer taking an antagonistic tone as he did during his first two years.

Let’s do a quick review of the speech, which is at least a useful summary of the President’s top line economic message.

We know what it will take for America to win the future. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build our competitors. We need an economy that’s based not on what we consume and borrow from other nations, but what we make and sell around the world. We need to make America the best place on earth to do business.

And this is a job for all of us. As a government, we will help lay the foundation for you to grow and innovate. We will upgrade our transportation and communications networks so you can move goods and information more quickly and cheaply. We will invest in education so that you can hire the most skilled, talented workers in the world. And we’ll knock down barriers that make it harder for you to compete, from the tax code to the regulatory system.

Now, I understand the challenges you face. I understand that you’re under incredible pressure to cut costs and keep your margins up. I understand the significance of your obligations to your shareholders. I get it. But as we work with you to make America a better place to do business, ask yourselves what you can do for America. Ask yourselves what you can do to hire American workers, to support the American economy, and to invest in this nation. That’s what I want to talk about today – the responsibilities we all have to secure the future we all share.

The President lays out what he calls the responsibilities of government.  Thee are his words, not mine:

  1. to encourage American innovation;
  2. to provide our people and our businesses with the fastest, most reliable way to move goods and information;
  3. to invest in the skills and education of our people;
  4. to cut the spending that we just can’t afford;
  5. to break down barriers that stand in the way of the success of American businesses – he cites trade, corporate taxes, and outdated and unnecessary regulations.

He then describes what he thinks are the responsibilities of American businesses.  Again these are the President’s words:

  1. to recognize that there are some safeguards and standards that are necessary to protect the American people from harm or exploitation;
  2. to share the benefits of a growing economy with American workers and not just go to greater profits and bonuses for those at the top;
  3. to create new jobs and manufacturing in the U.S. rather than overseas.

Finally, he jawbones the business leaders:

Now is the time to invest in America. Today, American companies have nearly $2 trillion sitting on their balance sheets. I know that many of you have told me that you are waiting for demand to rise before you get off the sidelines and expand, and that with millions of Americans out of work, demand has risen more slowly than any of us would like.

But many of your own economists and salespeople are now forecasting a healthy increase in demand. So I want to encourage you to get in the game. And part of the bipartisan tax deal we negotiated, businesses can immediately expense 100 percent of their capital investments. As you all know, it’s investments made now that will pay off as the economy rebounds. And as you hire, you know that more Americans working means more sales, greater demand, and higher profits for your companies. We can create a virtuous cycle.

I wouldn’t be surprised if “Now is the time to invest in America” becomes a new tag line for the Administration and its allies.  It serves a dual purpose:  to justify the President’s proposed government spending increases, and to jawbone private firms.  Anything is better than “Winning the future.”

(photo credit: The White House / Pete Souza)