Wall Street to Washington: It’s Time to Lead, or Leave!

Injured Piggy Bank WIth CrutchesThe thick malaise of the fiscal cliff conversation in Washington, on Wall Street, and on Main Street is exhausting. Politicians have apparently forgotten what it’s like to lead a country through divisiveness and economic hardship, and market participants have sat on their hands so long they’re numb.

The big news each day is the barometric reading of sentiment: optimism, the markets swing up; pessimism, the markets swing down (because it’s that simple, right?), and in between traders and investors, business owners and consumers look at the facts and figures available to them and say “these are all meaningless without context.”

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That context is a reasonable level of certainty about the future. At this point it matters less what the details of any so-called grand compromise look like, and more that any solution is found. If it’s the best thing on the table, even a modest compromise would do instead of whatever economic terror waits on the other side of the fiscal cliff.

In this spirit, the chief executives from some of America’s biggest businesses have ducked in and out of Washington over the past few weeks to offer advice and try to bring back intelligence on how to prepare their enterprises for whatever future awaits. Honeywell International Inc. (NYSE:HON) CEO David Cote has been among the most involved and vocal of business leaders to participate in the discussion, and his insight into the situation is both concise and honest…

Cote’s take on the whole situation might be fairly summed up by something he said to the 2010 Simpson-Bowles deficit-cutting commission. According to the Wall Street JournalCote recalls a day where, after digesting the scope of the country’s fiscal and political problems, he told the group, of which he was a member: “Who are you people? Is this the way you do the nation’s business? I’d fire all of you.”

His sentiments are likely in line with what a lot of people would say to policymakers in Washington right now.

Cote has helped lead a coalition of America’s top CEOs in the search for a solution through the “Fix the Debt” campaign, which was set up last summer. Cote is not alone in believing that the best thing for his shareholders is a healthy economy. Some other CEOs who are on the campaign’s leadership council include:

  • Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE:DAL)
  • Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM)
  • Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)
  • Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE:TWC)

The combined argument of some 450 CEOs who signed a letter to congress in the Summer of 2011 is clear and has not changed: If a solution is found, businesses will pour their energy and capital back into the market — if not, then expect more of the same.

“Everything they need to know, they know,” said Cote, according to the WSJ, referring to the policymakers in Washington. “I can keep talking about a market-credible fiscal plan… but it’s time to say, ‘You are the leaders–lead.'”

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