• US CEOs cite taxes, deregulation as top policy priorities

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    NEW YORK: Most CEOs of large US companies view tax and regulatory reform as their top policy priorities, with only three percent naming health care reform, according to a survey released Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).

    The Business Roundtable quarterly survey showed broad hopefulness about US economic prospects in the wake of the Republican sweep of the November elections.

    “Our CEOs are very optimistic that our environment in Washington can be a tailwind to an already positive environment we’ve seen these last months,” Joshua Bolten, the group’s chief executive, told reporters.

    The survey’s overall index jumped 19.1 points to 93.3 amid large increases in the number of respondents who see their companies boosting hiring and capital spending in the next six months, as well as expecting higher sales.

    Asked what single policy would create “the most pro-growth environment for your business,” 52 percent of chief executives said tax reform and 27 percent said regulatory reform, according to the survey of 141 chief executives by the Washington business lobby group.

    Increased infrastructure investment was tagged by 15 percent of respondents, five times the number identifying health care reform, which is the center of debate in Washington since Republicans introduced a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

    The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report Monday the Republican healthcare replacement plan endorsed by President Donald Trump would result in some 24 million people losing health insurance by 2026.

    Optimism that Trump will push through with promises of tax reform and other growth policies has boosted the US stock market to successive records in recent weeks, despite the lack of details on the plans.

    But investors fear a divisive debate on health care reform could delay, or even derail, the growth agenda.

    However, Bolten expressed confidence Washington ultimately will be able to deliver what businesses want.

    “Obviously there’s a lot of turbulence around the health care, but the other elements of the agenda we think are well on track.”

    Bolten praised the Trump administration for moves to freeze and roll back regulations, calling the efforts “refreshing for the system” following a run of environmental rules in prior administrations that he said stifled growth.

    Bolten also said he is seeing progress on tax reform, for years a central focus of the Republican party agenda. He described the current environment as a “once in a generation opportunity” for tax cuts.

    Some observers have raised the possibility higher interest rates could blunt growth, with the Federal Reserve expected to raise the benchmark lending rate on Wednesday.

    But JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon, who chairs the roundtable, said the Fed was responding to improving conditions so a rate increase does not hearken trouble for the US.

    The Fed’s move “is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness,” Dimon said.

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