Business Leaders Dive into the Fiscal-Cliff Debate

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If you’re already tired of talk of the “fiscal cliff,” brace yourself:  Several  business-friendly, deficit-unfriendly groups have launched well-funded campaigns hoping to bring even more attention to the issue. One involves a giant walking, talking can.

“Congress Can No Longer Ignore that the U.S. Economy is Headed Over a Cliff,” the Business Roundtable warns in its ads, launching today. “It’s Time to Act.” In several of the group’s ads, Honeywell Chair and CEO David Cote takes it a bit further. “If the last debt ceiling was playing with fire,” he asserts, “this time they’re playing with nitroglycerin.”

The Campaign to Fix the Debt, meanwhile, solemnly warns that “Inaction is not an Option,” while yet another group, aimed at young “millennials,” warns that politicians can’t solve the problem by simply “kicking the can down the road,” as the current favorite political cliché has it. The group, “the Millennial-outreach partner” of the Campaign, calls itself “The Can Kicks Back.”

At first glance, all this earnest effort seems a bit superfluous. It’s not as though the fiscal cliff is exactly being overlooked. It’s currently the biggest topic of conversation in DC not involving saucy emails, and until a deal is reached (probably around or after the looming January 1 deadline), talk of the fiscal cliff will be as hard to avoid as Christmas specials on TV.

(MORE: The Pessimist’s Guide to Surviving the Fiscal Cliff)  

So what exactly do these groups hope to bring to the discussion? Both the Business Roundtable and the Campaign to Fix the Debt promote “solutions” to the looming fiscal cliff, and the debt more generally, that rely heavily on spending cuts, and that are a long way off from President Obama’s notions of a “balanced” approach that includes both spending cuts and tax increases.

The Business Roundtable’s deliberately vague vision of “long-term fiscal health” involves “prudent reforms to reduce the growth of both discretionary and mandatory government spending; enacting a modern and fiscally responsible competitive tax code.” By “modernizing” the tax code they mean “lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, and implementing a modernized, competitive system of international taxation.” That’s right: fiscal prudence means corporate tax cuts.

The Campaign to Fix the Debt, meanwhile, describes itself as a “non-partisan movement to put America on a better fiscal and economic path,” but it too is devoted to a similarly vague deficit “fix” that seems to rely mostly on spending cuts.

While plainly advocating cuts in “wasteful domestic spending” and the military budget, the group turns to euphemism when it comes to talking taxes. The group’s heavily promoted “citizens petition” refers vaguely to the need to “simplify the tax code and eliminate loopholes through pro-growth and revenue-positive tax reform.”

Fix the Debt claims that its campaign reflects a surge of grassroots concern, noting that its petition drive has garnered more than 300,000 signatures so far. But the group, with a $40 million war chest, was founded by two Washington insiders, Erskine B. Bowles and Alan K. Simpson, the authors of a famous deficit reduction plan, and is backed by powerful business interests. Its CEO Fiscal Leadership Council includes famous names from many of America’s biggest companies, from JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon to Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, including several CEOs who are also heavily involved in the Business Roundtable’s campaign.

(MOREViewpoint: Why We Should Go Over the Fiscal Cliff)

Fix the Debt’s younger sibling, The Can Kicks Back, is similarly positioning itself as a grassroots effort which promises to “organize over 100,000 young people” to bring its message to elected officials. But it’s as carefully branded as any corporation, and comes complete with its own mascot, AmeriCAN, “a giant can character who will be visiting college campuses and walking the hallways of Congress to represent the young Americans who are kicking back to reclaim their future.”

Like I said, brace yourself.