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DC Must Get Debt Fight ‘Off the Front Page’: Caterpillar CEO

Doug Oberhelman, CEO of Caterpillar.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Doug Oberhelman, CEO of Caterpillar.

The battle to rein in spending and overhaul taxes is something that Washington's policymakers must work "to get off the front page," Caterpillar CEO Doug Olberhelman told CNBC on Wednesday, as he argued the lack of resolution was hampering U.S. growth prospects.

On Tuesday, Caterpillar received a mention by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech as a company bringing jobs back to the U.S. Olberhelman said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" that immigration reform and fiscal certainty were necessary ingredients for Corporate America to create more domestic employment.

"The key to all this is growth ... and that's really what we need desperately, here and around the world," the CEO said. "A 2.5 percent worldwide growth rate … is really the root of our problem right now."

(Read More: Customers 'Scared to Death' of Going Off 'Cliff': Caterpillar CEO.)

Olberhelman added that the fight over taxes and spending needs a quick and final resolution, especially as the sequester deadline creeps closer.

"We've got to get the debt thing … off the front page. That is holding us back and it's going to be rising here in rhetoric for the next month," he said. Calling the current tax code "a mess," Olberhelman said long-term entitlement reform must be part of any deal to fix the deficit.

"It's not so bad when interest rates are as low as they are at 1 to 2 percent, but what happens when they go up, and they will, and we see that interest service starting to eat into other government programs?" he asked. "We've just got to get a hold of it and get it off the front page and get back to work."

In a separate interview, Aetna chairman, CEO and president Mark Bertolini linked controlling health care costs to the effort to rein in government spending.

Bertolini told CNBC that President Obama's ideas to bend the health care cost curve ""have been on the table for a long time. And so really, what does it take to get the words into action, is the first question that I would have," the CEO said.

Aetna's chief called entitlement reform "a third rail for a lot of people on both sides of the aisle," with both Democrats and Republicans appearing to engage in a waiting game that puts off the day of reckoning.

"We need to get to a place where both sides can agree and both sides take the pain," Bertolini said. "It's going to take to make these changes. I think we have to address it, there's no other way."

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