President Obama's sit down session with 14 chief executives on Wednesday afternoon went swimmingly. At least from the Obama administration's point of view it did. Everybody at the meeting -- including Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein -- behaved themselves and did their best not to look bored in the obligatory White House photographer photo that made its way to Flickr in no time. (See above.) But most importantly, Obama got the headlines he wanted.
It's extraordinary, really. Less than a month after trouncing Republican candidate Mitt Romney -- an open-minded fellow who stopped by the White House for lunch a couple hours before the big CEO summit -- Obama managed to get some of the wealthiest men and women in the country to offer their tacit support for his raising taxes. "At White House, CEOs offer support for higher tax rates," reads Reuters' headline. "Business chieftains back Obama approach," says the conservative Washington Times. From a 30,000-foot vantage point, CNN went with "GOP divide over Obama tax plan goes public."
So the fiscal cliff debates are over now, right? Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Obama's meeting with CEOs and Wednesday was just one of many the president's been having with business leaders, union leaders and progressive leaders. (Lots of leaders.) And while a few news organizations gave the meeting a positive spin, the power brokers in Wednesday's meeting didn't exactly sound enthusiastic about an imminent tax hike. "The president and his team were resoundingly reasonable in what they had to say," said Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson. "There needs to be some revenue element to this, and [Obama] started with rates," said Joe Echevarria, chief executive of Deloitte. And he started with rates on what we would define [as] the upper two percent. ... That we have to pay our fair share. And I think everybody was in agreement with that notion."
Muted enthusiasm is about the best Obama could ask for. Winning support for his new tax plan is no easy challenge, and the president probably won't get any more freebies, like the one that Warren Buffett served up earlier this week with his "minimum tax for the wealthy" op-ed in The New York Times. Let's just hope that Lloyd Blankfein doesn't get too carried away with doing the math. So far, the Goldman chief very surprisingly seems on board. After the meeting, Blankfein actually called the president's plan for avoiding the fiscal cliff "very credible." That's a big deal.