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GE’s Immelt? Not the Job Change We Can Believe In

The corporate titan cashes in on Obama's big-government ways.

by
Tom Borelli

Bio

January 28, 2011 - 12:00 am

Contrary to appearances, President Barack Obama’s appointment of General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt to lead the White House’s new President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness is not a sign of the president’s new openness to the business community.

Nor does it indicate the president is taking a new direction either on job creation or innovation.

Rather, by renaming the panel from the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and selecting Immelt as its head, Obama is slapping whitewash on the same team and policies that failed to stimulate job growth during the first two years of his administration.

Immelt, in fact, was already a member of the original economic advisory group. “My hope,” he wrote, in a January 21 commentary in the Washington Post, “is that the council will be a sounding board for ideas and a catalyst for action on jobs and competitiveness. It will include large businesses, small businesses, labor, economists and government.”

While introducing the panel, Obama said it will “focus its work on finding new ways to encourage the private sector to hire and invest in American competitiveness.”

Strip away the corporate and political jargon of new ways and sounding boards, and you’ll find the “green economy” as the major platform that unites both Obama and Immelt.

Obama’s State of the Union speech, in which the president promoted green technologies and called for the elimination of tax breaks for oil companies, only further signals that the new jobs panel will be used to promote the president’s green dream.

Obama and Immelt have made huge, billion-dollar bets on clean energy technology. Any suggestion that they will have an open mind to abandon their previous commitments or put them on the back burner is unrealistic.

Most likely, the reconstituted advisory panel will end up promoting renewable energy as the job growth engine. Obama’s new vision of generating 80% of America’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035 almost guarantees the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness will amplify the “green economy” objective.

The failure of cap-and-trade in Congress, a policy aggressively supported by both Obama and Immelt, has, it seems, only temporally jeopardized their green energy agenda. Government regulation limiting carbon emissions would make using fossil fuels more expensive, making renewable energy relatively more competitive.

Despite failing in his objective to enact cap-and-trade, the president is making carbon-based forms of energy — coal, oil and natural gas — more costly, allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Obama administration is also cracking down on oil drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico, which will reduce supply and force oil prices higher.

Following the defeat of cap-and-trade in the Senate, Obama promised to deliver an energy policy that would reduce fossil fuel use. In a Rolling Stone interview, Obama said, “We may end up having to do it in chunks, as opposed to some sort of comprehensive omnibus legislation. But we’re going to stay on this because it is good for our economy, it’s good for our national security, and, ultimately, it’s good for our environment.”
Immelt, for his part, remains in favor of higher energy prices to stimulate investment in clean technologies. At a meeting last September, where he called America’s energy policy “stupid,” Immelt added that the U.S. “needs to establish a ‘long-term price signal’ on carbon emissions, in order for companies to provide ‘appropriate funding for innovation’ regardless of fuel, as well as revive nuclear energy. Such moves would create jobs rather than shift them overseas.”

Immelt reiterated his call for higher prices for fossil fuels this year at a meeting at the Brookings Institution, where he emphasized the importance of a government policy that would raise energy prices to spur renewable energy.

Obama made more than a safe choice in picking Immelt. Not only is Immelt as reliant on a renewable energy future as Obama himself, but GE has become addicted to generating revenue from the president’s big-government agenda.

Looting public funds for an income rush appears to be one of Immelt’s primary business strategies. He hit the jackpot with Obama’s $787 billion dollar stimulus plan. According to Recovery.gov, GE got over $49 million in grants and contracts from a number of government departments.

In addition to getting direct support, the company will likely benefit from the hundreds of millions of dollars that were given to GE’s utility customers — Duke Energy, NextEra Energy, and Exelon.

Unfortunately, Obama and Immelt have apparently overlooked the consequences of betting our economic future on a green economy and pushing policies that will raise energy prices.

Currently, about 85 percent of our energy needs comes from fossil fuels. Making power more expensive will only drive jobs overseas.

It’s highly unlikely that job creation and innovation will come from Immelt, who has gone all in with President Obama’s big-government agenda. Most likely, the new economic panel will only serve as a propaganda arm for Obama’s “green economy.”

To stimulate our economy and job growth, our country needs economic leaders who embrace the entrepreneurial spirit — not a CEO who needs a government policy to bail out his bad bet on renewable energy.

Don’t believe the hype. Jeffrey Immelt will not bring the job change we can believe in.

Dr. Thomas Borelli is a senior fellow with The National Center for Public Policy Research.
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