Conservatives are continuing to criticize the Obama administration's handling of the economy, but it's getting a bit harder now that signs of a recovery are starting to take hold.
A trio of business leaders representing the Job Creators Alliance held an event Friday to highlight a recent poll they commissioned showing that most Americans sympathize with companies who say they are over-regulated and believe it is stifling job growth.
"We are regulating the job creators to death," said Thomas Stemberg, a venture capitalist and founder of office supply retailer Staples. "The amount of economically meaningful regulations (more than $100 million) in the first three years of the Obama administration is up 30-fold over the first three years of the Bush administration."
Specifically, the business leaders criticized the president's health care law and financial regulation measures, both of which are unpopular with the public and have hurt Obama's approval rating.
But Stemberg, as well as the two men he was joined onstage by – John Allison, the CEO and chairman of BB&T Corporation, and Michael Whalen, founder of the Heart of America Group – admitted in their discussion that things are improving.
"I think the economy has kind of taken two steps forward and one step back each month. I don't see a rapid recovery. At the same time, I think things are gradually getting somewhat better," said Stemberg, who worked with Mitt Romney at Bain Capital when the investment firm helped capitalize Staples, launching the company into the economic stratosphere. Stemberg has donated at least $20,000 to the Super PAC formed to help support the former Massachusetts governor in his presidential bid, as well as donating $2,500, the maximum amount allowed to go directly to the candidate, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Allison agreed the economy was improving, but said it was "almost inevitable."
"I hate that I think we've got a false sense of optimism, not that things aren't getting better, they are getting better, but we're not dealing with our long term problems and what we're doing, I think, is unethical in relation to our children and our grandchildren," he said. "The bad news is that the economy ought to be doing much better today than it is. Having been through economic recoveries, I've been in business 40 years, at this point in the recovery we ought to be having very rapid growth right now."
That "coulda, woulda, shoulda" argument about the economy is the same one President Obama has wrestled with in trying to convince the public that the recession would have been far worse if he had not proposed his massive stimulus package.
But the event was a good example of how pervasive presidential politics are in an election year because while no one in the room uttered Romney's or any other GOP presidential candidate's name, there was no doubt what the aim of the event was.
"There hasn't been the kind of courage, self-discipline or leadership that we need to get back on track," Allison said. "Many of the businesses are doing fine themselves, they're saying, 'I'm not doing great but I've doing fine. But I'm not ready to invest in the future because of the ambiguity, but it's deeper than the ambiguity.' What there real fear is that the current administration's policies will actually be implemented."