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INFLUENCE GAME: Election over, campaign continues

Associated Press Modified: November 22, 2012 at 8:46 am •  Published: November 22, 2012
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WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.

It's a twist on the usual lobbying effort: Instead of digging for more tax dollars, they're trying to protect what they've got.

The tactics are familiar to voters who were swamped with TV commercials, newspaper ads and mailers in the frenzied months before Election Day. But this time, the effort is directed at politicians, not so much the public.

What do these groups want?

In this climate, lobbyists and advocacy groups are mainly 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. In other words: Don't raise my taxes and don't cut spending on programs I like.

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.

Obama largely ignored that plan. Now, the two co-chairmen of the commission, Democrat Erskine Bowles 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 female runner and the catch phrase, "Just fix it." Another is 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 in a postelection session of Congress to reduce the sudden jolt of higher taxes and spending cuts and lay a framework for addressing the nation's long-term financial problems. But the two political parties are struggling to find common ground, especially on taxes and widely popular benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Obama wants to let tax rates rise for wealthy families while sparing middle- and low-income taxpayers. Some Republican leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, 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.

If the wealthy are going to put out more tax money one way or another, it may not matter much whether they do so by paying a higher rate or by seeing their tax shelters shrink. But most of those tax breaks have some broader policy purpose behind them. In Washington, lobbyists are paid handsomely to focus on seemingly small details like that and lawmakers are perfectly capable of getting tied in knots over them.

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