Corporate CEOs are lining up behind a pro-austerity lobbying group in anticipation of what could be a bruising fight to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, hoping to influence high-level discussions on tax and spending matters following November's general elections.
The CEOs of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS), the General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), and 97 other firms are financially supporting the "Fix The Debt" campaign of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, according to the Financial Times. With close links to moderate Republican philanthropists, the committee has support among the fiscally minded in both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Its Fix The Debt campaign is looking at the lame-duck session of Congress this year as the appropriate time to begin dropping Brink's trucks full of cash on lobbying to cut the long-term sovereign debt. It has already raised more than $30 million to that end.
It is all part of necessary preparations in the face of an expected special-interest lobbying frenzy, Maya MacGuineas, the president of the committee, told the Huffington Post.
"No matter how much we raise, there's going to be a lot of well-funded groups that are going to oppose specific changes to the budget that are going to have a lot more money. This is not going to be a campaign that's going to win because we have enough money to win," MacGuineas told the online newspaper. "There'll be plenty of dollars that will be thrown at protecting everybody's favorite program and tax break. ... But somewhere everybody knows that this is something we have to do."
Besides all that cash, the organization is counting on the "spiritual leadership" of Alan Simpson, the Republican former U.S. senator from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, the Democratic White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. Simpson and Bowles co-chaired a commission on deficit-reduction measures whose suggestions have become a popular benchmark for discussions on how to tackle the U.S. debt.
According to the Fix The Debt website, the campaign is seeking to "mobilize key communities," Washington shorthand for helping to shape the elite consensus, toward moving away from sacred entitlement and tax-cut cows. While the proposals the campaign will get behind are not set in stone, its sponsoring organization has suggested raising the Medicare eligibility age (as in this article in the Wall Street Journal) and instituting "pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues." It supports the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission, which include tax hikes and spending cuts, changes to the structure of Social Security, and the elimination of popular tax deductions.
Even more interesting than the policy choices on which the organization will focus its lobbying activity is its approach to conducting its campaign. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, it is "building a roster of big-company chief executives" to loudly bring attention to the debt-reduction issue.
"Our whole political structure seems to be set up to make it hard for our political leaders to have courage that leads them to reach compromise" Arne Sorenson, the CEO of Marriott International Inc. (NYSE: MAR), told the Journal. He said people from the higher rungs of the business world could help "to create an environment" by doing "nothing more than saying: 'We just encourage you to try. We'll support you. We'll give cover.'"
Meanwhile, the Financial Times suggested that, while agitating on the public airwaves, the committee is looking to carry out "a two-pronged line of attack" behind the scenes -- first attempting to "push for a preliminary deal, which would delay that dangerous end-of-year fiscal squeeze" this year and then trying to promote "a serious drive to hammer out a grandiose fiscal plan" next year.
"Both [political] parties are engaged in a game of three-dimensional chess," MacGuineas told the congressional newspaper Roll Call this year.
And it is clear her campaign is not willing to simply be a pawn in that game.