In these scary economic times, the politics of the business world suddenly seem topsy-turvy.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Manufacturers are openly praising President-elect Barack Obama for being smart and practical, for making business-friendly appointments and for a strong economic stimulus package.
Indeed, as Obama prepares to take over, old antipathies between the business community and Democrats appear to have faded, raising the question of whether the president-elect and business can be real friends over the long haul.
Obama has sent business some pleasing news. He's signaled he likely will put off raising taxes on wealthy Americans until 2010. He's won plaudits for proposals to cut health-care costs by computerizing forms and curtailing the number of health procedures. And he has indicated openness to some business tax increases.
"I think it will be a good relationship," said Barry Bosworth, an economist at the Brookings Institution.
But the main question is for how long. And the answer could be determined by how quickly and aggressively Obama pushes to get his big agenda approved, and how much he is willing to compromise with business.
Business leaders said that fireworks could erupt if Obama moved too quickly on his cap-and-trade plan to curb carbon-dioxide emissions or went too far with government activism in health care. There is also concern about overregulation in the financial sector, although former Federal Reserve member Lyle Gramley said financial institutions don't have much to fear with former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker now an Obama aide.
And then there is the card-check issue, in which today's secret ballot would be discarded in worker elections to unionize companies.
To please his labor constituency, Obama supported such legislation during the campaign, but Aric Newhouse, senior vice president for policy and government relations at the National Association of Manufacturers, said, "Having a debate about taking away the rights of the private ballot to encourage unionization is not going to be an issue that will encourage cooperation with the Obama administration."
Still, business representatives acknowledged, the divisive bill is likely to be passed by the House this year, and its fate could be decided in the Senate, where Democrats have expanded their majority. Business is banking on the hope that enough moderate Democrats will block the bill if GOP opposition can't be mustered to kill it.
"If there is not a clear and early path to [a filibuster-proof] 60 votes, they probably won't push it right away," said Dan Danner, executive vice president at the National Federation of Independent Business.
But, clearly, the stimulus package, expected to total between $800 billion and $1 trillion, is the main driver for bringing Obama and the business community closer together.
"He as president-elect will have the same mutual interest as my members do, which is getting this economy out of the condition it is in," said Bruce Josten, executive vice president for governmental affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"He'll take over the job in what is probably the most fiscally restrained and limited economic landscape of any president, including the time after World War II. That can be a significant limiting factor on the other elements of his agenda, from energy to health care and on and on."
Josten said he believes Obama will concentrate on the economy in his first year and probably have to put off either his initiative on health care or energy, or both.
Stanley Collender, a budget expert who heads a public relations office in Washington, agreed. "The only mandate for Obama is on the economy," he said.
Although Obama has indicated he can't do everything in his first year in office, some Democrats are pushing for action on health care and energy in 2009, when his clout would be greater than in later years. A Senate Democratic source said no decision has been made on his agenda's timetable.
Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute, said a crowded agenda is likely next year.
"There's going to be such a tsunami of legislation that one can't help but think there are going to be growing areas of disagreement [between Obama and business]," he said.
Business groups said Obama faces a daunting challenge in trying to expand health-care coverage to all Americans by reducing costs and making it affordable. While they admire this effort, Josten said fixing the health-care system likely will require fundamental restructuring, something that will take much time and deliberation.
Obama's energy plans provoke much skepticism from business. The president-elect has called for 10 percent of all electricity to be generated by renewable sources - wind, solar and the like - by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025.
He also would reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change by 80 percent by 2050, an ambitious goal. To accomplish this, he would cap emissions and allow polluters to trade their emission allowances provided by the government.
Josten said these goals will run into realities. "You can't put windmills anywhere you want. It is not steady power. And you don't have an electrical grid system tied to [wind power] that is operable."
In addition, he said, the Energy Department has estimated the nation will be dependent on fossil fuels for the next half-century.
The cap-and-trade legislation also is controversial because it would, in effect, impose an indirect tax on carbon and could harm the economy if pushed too fast. In addition, said Barry Rabe, a political science professor at the University of Michigan, it would require "an incredibly complicated piece of legislation" and would difficult to enforce.
"You could pass the legislation, but it would be years before it could go into effect," Rabe said. "That could be an advantage for a president-elect."