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WattzOn’s CEO Martha Amram returned to the White House last week, as she joined other business leaders in a roundtable discussion of the fiscal cliff.  Presentations of the national budget and the potential impact of the fiscal cliff were provided by the head of OMB (Jeffrey Zients) and the head of the Council of Economic Advisors (Alan Krueger). The meeting then moved on to an open discussion of the issue and its importance to the business community, and to issues of competitiveness — particularly education and the skills gap.

Key takeaways:

• While the room clearly had business leaders who were members of both parties, there was a common and clear sense of concern and urgency. Getting beyond this political stalemate was of keen interest.

• Business leaders urged the White House staff to communicate more frequently and in more business forums about the budget and the impact of the fiscal cliff.  There is not much debate about the severe drag on the economy from inaction — in fact, the White House presentation used growth  projections from other sources, including consensus forecasts.  The attendees encouraged expanding the conversation from the single thread of tax cuts, to the broader range of impacts.

• And on competitiveness and education: clearly time for a change.  There are large gaps between employer needs and training programs, between a knowledge-worker economy and our training in science and math, and between innovators and many job seekers.  Looking beyond the fiscal cliff, the White House staff is looking for collaborative public private partnerships.

It was an honor to be invited and to participate, and sobering to realize the high stakes before us.