Group Aims to Push for National Debt Solutions

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Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Now that the presidential campaign is over, another campaign has been put into high gear: to reduce the debt and avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

A group founded by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson — The Campaign to Fix the Debt — on Thursday announced a national effort to mobilize corporate and citizen support to put pressure on Congress to avoid the potential of pushing the economy into recession when tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts kick in at the beginning of next year.  The group is also pushing for a long term plan on deficit reduction.

Avoiding the potential economic damage of the fiscal cliff — which includes expiring tax cuts for the rich and middle class, $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts set to take effect next year, and a debt limit increase — remains the most daunting challenge for Congress during the lame duck session, which begins Nov. 13.

Facing an end-of-the-year deadline of just 54 days, the campaign will work just like an election year one — mobilizing grassroots support,  passing petitions, building congressional outreach, pushing through social media,  building state coalitions, and launching paid media.  The campaign’s state operations will be the largest area of focus.  So far the group has operations in 11 states now and is looking to double that in the coming months.

Paid advertising has started, including print, digital and outdoor.  The advertising message is that “the national debt is getting in the way of America excelling and unless we come together as a nation the situation is only going to get worse.”

The group hopes to educate the country and create a political environment in which any vote for a deal by members of Congress will be viewed as a good vote.

The Campaign had formed a CEO leadership council with more than 100 CEOs and business leaders from companies like Honeywell, Caterpillar, Motorola, AT&T, John Deere, Starwood and Deloitte.  The CEOs will talk to their employees, talk to their communities and come to Washington at times to deliver this message.

“The level of activism goes well beyond just putting their name to a list of principles,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt. “They will really be working on this issue to solve the problem.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, signaled openness to the inclusion of new tax revenue in a legislative package to address the fiscal cliff as long as proceeds are linked to entitlement reform and spending cuts.

The group says that Speaker Boehner’s message was a “very good start to the discussion,” and “set the right tone.”

The group is not supporting any specific plan but is working to help find a “comprehensive debt deal” that will be economically and politically viable.  The group notes that Congress will be unlikely to hash out a comprehensive deal in the lame duck session but warns that even in the short term the country should not be allowed go off a fiscal cliff and that Congress cannot punt on this issue.

“We are now in a position where credit markets, countries around the globe and citizens of this country who are really aware of this issue are watching,” MacGuineas said.  “And if Congress punts on this I think markets would be incredibly unforgiving and we really risk jeopardizing where we stand in the global economy by showing that we cannot govern.”

The group says that if Congress cannot hammer out the full parameters of a debt deal “they need to make this the first credible step to put a comprehensive debt deal in place…start down the path of putting those choices in place and coming up with a full-fledge process and timeline for how they are going to figure out the rest of the debt deal as soon as possible.”

The Campaign said that any deal must address structural entitlement reform and revenues through tax reform.  A deal is possible without raising tax rates on the wealthy, they said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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