Sometimes it's good just to be invited. Although expected, the exclusion of JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein from Wednesday's financial reform bill signing ceremony suggests President Obama isn't yet easing up on Big Finance. That's a pity. While Washington needn't bow to business, repairing relations would benefit all.
Snubbing Blankfein, whose firm is coughing up $550 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission, is one matter. And the White House does argue that space was tight. But Dimon is supposedly a model banker, the guy who deftly steered his company away from the risky practices that ruined many peers. His absence from the invitation list may owe more to his willingness to voice opposition to aspects of the reform bill.
But Dimon's inclusion might have signaled something of a rapprochement. So would avoiding the temptation to keep dinging banks for populist political purposes in the run-up to the November congressional elections.
Not that Obama has to see eye-to-eye with financiers — or any other business interests, for that matter — or vice versa. CEOs overwhelmingly supported his Republican presidential rival John McCain in 2008. A temporary détente during the economic crisis, when much of the business lobby supported the Democrats' stimulus package, has given way to traditional conflicts over taxes and regulation.
Still, the White House could do more to sand the rough edges. On the policy side, it should push Congress to pass pending trade agreements with Columbia, Korea and Panama. A believable plan to reduce the long-term U.S. deficit would be a big confidence builder. And the faster financial regulators shape myriad new rules, the better.
It also wouldn't hurt for top financial supervisors to have more business in their background. The current administration lacks representatives able to chat up executives - not to be captured, but to get their informed perspective. One relevant person in that context is often the commerce secretary, but that post is currently held by career politician Gary Locke. His predecessor was former Kellogg chief Carlos Gutierrez. Corporate America might not expect to get its way, but a familiar face or two would help. As relationship experts say, it's the little things that mean a lot."