Fix the Debt: CEOs launch drive for 'grand bargain.' Is Washington listening?
The Fix the Debt CEOs, who are dedicated to pushing Washington toward a deficit-reducing 'grand bargain,' say they were appalled by the reckless debate over the debt ceiling in 2011.
A dozen CEOs and business leaders rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange Thursday morning with a message for lawmakers in Washington: Come November, you’re going to be hearing a lot more from corporate America about getting the nation’s finances in order.
The business executives were visiting the heart of global capitalism to kick off the more than 80-strong CEO Council of the Fix the Debt campaign.
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Fix the Debt, an offshoot of a Washington think tank, is committed to pushing Washington toward a deficit-cutting “grand bargain” to solidify America’s finances for the next several decades.
Fix the Debt was co-founded by former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, who together co-chaired the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform at the behest of President Obama.
The CEOs will play an integral part in a post-election advocacy campaign by raising the issues of long term debt and deficits with members of Congress, holding town halls with their employees and the public, and working with members of Congress to develop policy solutions, said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the think tank behind Fix the Debt.
The group advocates for an approach to fixing the nation's debt problems that takes no political totems as sacred, breaking with many other business coalitions in advocating both for the necessity of some form of higher taxes – not just more tax revenue through economic growth, as many conservatives desire – and reforms to treasured social programs like Medicare that many Democrats find abhorrent.
The roots of corporate involvement in America's long-term debt picture issue lie in Washington’s last financial debacle. Several executives said they felt singed by the harrowing negotiations over raising the debt ceiling in 2011 and chastened by criticism that the business community was asleep while the American economy hurtled toward disaster. They vowed to prevent the country’s financial soundness from being taken to the brink again, alluding to the sustained threat of a default during the debt-ceiling debate.
“We don’t have the right to be that reckless,” said Paul Stebbins, the executive chairman of World Fuel Services. “When you see what happened back in” August 2011, “it would be irresponsible to not be more proactive about that now. Business doesn’t get a pass – nobody gets a pass.”
“If you go back to the debt ceiling discussion, that really shocked many of us in the business community,” concurred Dave Cote, the CEO of Honeywell, a Fortune 100 global industrial conglomerate, and a former member of Mr. Obama’s debt commission, which came to be known as Simpson-Bowles.
“We just thought this was a normal political moment [Washington was] going through, we never thought you’d be this reckless or irresponsible with the country’s finances,” Mr. Cote continued. “Well, we now have a bunch of people who are trying to say ‘We are going to pay attention.’ ”