WASHINGTON — The election may be over, but a new campaign is being waged in the nation’s capital as lobbyists, advocates and trade groups fight to shape the government’s response to the looming fiscal cliff.
Lobbyists and advocacy groups are trying to control the damage as Congress and the White House look to raise taxes and cut spending in an attempt to slow down the government’s mushrooming debt.
At the same time, cheerleaders for fiscal austerity – including members of President Barack Obama’s own deficit commission – are lobbying him and Congress to cut deficits. In 2010, the commission proposed a plan that mixed tax increases and spending cuts to reduce government borrowing by almost $4 trillion over the next decade.
Now, the two co-chairmen of the commission – Democrat Erskine Bowles, the former UNC system president from Charlotte, and Republican Alan Simpson – have formed a group called Fix the Debt that is running newspaper ads that mimic popular advertising campaigns. One ad features a picture of a woman with a milk mustache and the slogan, “Got debt?”
“Even the best advertising in the world can’t fix the debt,” says the ad. “But together we can. Let’s get to work.”
Come January, the nation faces a massive combination of automatic tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts that have come be known as the “fiscal cliff,” because allowing this scenario to play out would probably send the economy back into recession, according to government economists.
Lawmakers and the White House are working to reduce the sudden jolt of higher taxes and spending cuts, but the two political parties are struggling to find common ground.
Obama wants to let tax rates rise for wealthy families while sparing middle- and low-income taxpayers. Some Republican leaders have said they are willing to consider making the wealthy pay more by reducing their tax breaks. But most Republicans in Congress adamantly oppose raising tax rates.
Meanwhile, advocates for older people are warning the negotiators to keep their hands off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
But the lobbying doesn’t stop there. Here’s some of what Congress is hearing:
• The defense industry is fighting against spending cuts that would bite weapons makers.
• The National Association of Manufacturers warns that 1 million private-sector jobs could be lost if pending cuts to defense spending are approved.
• Companies that make medical devices are trying to stop new taxes on their products under the new health care law.
• The Charitable Giving Coalition warns that benevolent donations will suffer if they’re no longer tax deductible.
• A coalition of medical research groups called Research!America is trying to cut through the noise with stark advertisements likening spending cuts to poison: “Warning: Washington politics just might kill you.”
And many advocacy groups are pressing their cases directly. Advocates for the oil and gas industry say they just want to minimize the damage.
“We’re certainly not asking for anything on Capitol Hill,” said Brian Johnson, senior tax adviser for the American Petroleum Institute.
The institute has started an ad campaign aimed at senators from seven states – all of them up for re-election in 2014. One is N.C. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-Greensboro.