Top CEOs tell Congress and Obama to get to work

American CEOs gathering in Washington, D.C., told CNBC on Wednesday that corporate tax reform, less burdensome regulations, and improvements in education are among the things that could help unlock the economy's potential and create jobs.

"We're all apprehensive about doing a high-five and declaring victory here when so much more is possible," said AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson on the sidelines of the quarterly meeting of the Business Roundtable.

Stephenson, who's also chairman of the roundtable, said on "Squawk Box" that corporate leaders would like to see the president tap a point-person to drive corporate tax reform through Congress.

There's "general agreement" that the U.S. tax code is not competitive, he added. "If we want to move the economic growth rate further, we need to change the tax code."

Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon agreed, saying "we are working against people from other countries that have an advantage."

BlackRock Chairman and CEO Larry Fink also stressed the need to overhaul business taxes, and said such reform should be revenue neutral. "Some companies have to accept they do not get tax deductions they previously get."

The job skills gap and immigration reform

Rex Tillerson, CEO and chairman of Exxon Mobil.
Martin Simon | CNBC
Rex Tillerson, CEO and chairman of Exxon Mobil.

On the jobs front, ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson said improvements in education from kindergarten right through college are necessary to close the labor skills gap.

"There are something north of 4 million jobs that are open simply because we can't find the right skilled employees to fill those jobs," said Tillerson, who heads the roundtable's education task force.

Another way to find more skilled employees would be to reform immigration, said Caterpillar Chairman and CEO Douglas Oberhelman.

"We educate [immigrants], give them internships, co-ops, we send them back home," he said. "Five years later, we see these same folks across the table from us with our competitors. I'd like to keep them here."

Wal-Mart's McMillon said he believes an "appropriate plan" on immigration reform would be good for the economy.

More from Business Roundtable meeting
>2% to 3% growth feels perpetual: Wal-Mart CEO
>ExxonMobil OK with oil at $40: CEO
>10-year yield could dip under 2%: BlackRock's Fink
>Dealmaking in 5th inning: Schwarzman

Dealing with regulations like net neutrality

On the regulation side, AT&T's Stephenson expressed concerns about the president's push on net neutrality. "We paused our investment until we know what the rules are ... because these are multibillion-dollar investments."

Maggie Wilderotter, chief executive of Frontier Communications, said she agrees with the concept of an open and fair Internet. "We don't throttle customers back. We don't prioritize content."

Frontier provides voice, data, and television services to predominantly to rural areas and small communities.

"We have to put in place a mechanism where we can have commerce on that network that's good for the consumer, good for the content provider, and good for the ISP [Internet service provider]," she said.

Honeywell Chairman and CEO David Cote said an all-of-the-above approach on regulations, tax reform, infrastructure, and spending in Washington is needed to drive the economy higher.

"There needs to be this feeling that the country has a real momentum and things are changing," he said.

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