By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, Jan 31 (Reuters) - The White House said on Thursday it is disbanding President Barack Obama's jobs council, a group of high-profile chief executives who gave advice on how to spur growth, even as 12 million Americans remain out of work.
The White House said it will begin a new, expanded effort to work with the business community - and other groups - to advance Obama's priorities of boosting economic growth, cutting debt and fixing a broken immigration system.
'It's a broad engagement strategy to make sure the president's message is getting out to the American people, because with their voices involved we think that we can still do big things,' Valerie Jarrett, a top Obama adviser and his point person on working with business, told Reuters in a recent interview.
The jobs council, chaired by Jeff Immelt of General Electric , had not met with Obama for more than a year and had been dismissed by critics as ineffectual.
Republicans pounced on the news as a sign that Obama lacked credibility on job creation, noting it came the day after data showed the U.S. economy contracted in the fourth quarter.
'Over the past four years, President Obama has seemed far more interested in political show votes and tax gimmicks than actually focusing on what Americans need: more jobs,' said Senator Mitch McConnell, top Republican in the Senate.
The U.S. jobless rate hangs stubbornly at 7.8 percent, down from a peak of 10 percent in the depth of the recession after Obama took office in January 2009. Economists expect a report on Friday to show little improvement.
The White House said the council's recommendations helped make it easier for small businesses to work with government and led to a streamlined tourist visa process.
The council had been set up at its inception with a two-year lifespan, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. But he blamed Republicans in Congress for blocking legislation that would have created more infrastructure jobs.
'This fixation on an entity that the president himself created conveniently ignores all the work the president has done, toward creating jobs and fostering economic growth,' Carney told reporters who grilled him about the council's end.
'WE GAVE THEM COVER'
The council was created as Obama sought to ease a tense relationship with business after Democrats suffered a blistering defeat in the 2010 midterm elections.
Obama recruited Immelt, a Republican, to lead the jobs council, and met four times with them. The last meeting was more than a year ago.
The White House emphasized that it has continued to talk with business in other ways.
Administration officials ramped up these conversations starting in November as Obama faced a year-end crisis over the 'fiscal cliff' series of budgetary deadlines - cleverly capitalizing on disarray among Republicans more traditionally seen as allies of business.
Jarrett told Reuters that executives made it clear resolving the fiscal cliff would create a more certain environment, which economists say would lead to growth and jobs.
From November through New Year's Day, Obama spoke with more than 50 different chief executives and other business leaders, and the White House organized meetings with more than 300 small business owners from around the country.
The White House meetings were filled with executives from all sectors, companies ranging from AT&T to Dow Chemical to Goldman Sachs to Chevron.
While in Washington, many CEOs marched up to Capitol Hill to talk to lawmakers, saying they were willing to see income taxes on the wealthy rise in the name of addressing the deficit.
'Every CEO was saying, 'Raise my taxes. I can afford it,'' Nasdaq Chief Executive Robert Greifeld told Reuters.
'We did give them cover, and we gave the Republicans cover, because they knew the business community was not going to scream,' he said.
Businesses were relieved the fiscal cliff was averted in January and saw the White House successfully push to make a group of corporate tax breaks part of the deal.
But they have made it clear they want to see spending cuts to reduce the deficit and corporate tax reform to lower rates that are now the highest among advanced industrial nations.
'We've been engaged and we've been very clear that this uncertainty caused by the deficit is slowing economic growth,' said DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman in an interview.
(Additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai, Kim Dixon, Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal in Washington; John McCrank and Ernest Scheyder in New York; Editing by Philip Barbara) Keywords: USA OBAMA/JOBS
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