What Recent Fiscal Cliff Campaigns Are Really About
As House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama creep closer to a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, political groups on the left and right are not missing a chance to score political points heading into the 2014 midterm elections.
The conservative policy group Crossroads GPS targeted five Democratic senators in a recent ad that calls for a "balanced plan" to fix the fiscal cliff. The radio ads call on lawmakers to support "significant spending cuts."
On the other side of the aisle the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted dozens of House Republicans in a harshly worded telephone campaign that painted them as "hostage takers."
What the campaigns amount to, say government accountability groups, is a play for political points in the midterm elections.
"In the guise of governing, which means trying to influence decisions, government decisions, we've got this nonstop campaign process. and it's extremely unhealthy," said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer.
Crossroads defends its campaigns by casting them as an exercise in First Amendment rights.
"Crossroads believes any plan to cut the deficit must include spending cuts, and these so-called good government groups are out to censor and silence the free speech rights of Crossroads and any organization that advocates for its beliefs and causes," said American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS spokesman Jonathan Collegio.
Still, not surprisingly, some of the lawmakers who are the subject of the broadsides see things differently.
"It's an attack ad for the 2014 campaign. They can call it whatever they want, but you know, Alaskans know better. And I think also Alaskans don't like these outsiders telling us what they think is the right attitude," said Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, one of the targets of the GPS spot.
For the DCCC, which is the campaign arm of House Democrats, it's a little harder to downplay the political undertones of the effort.
"Our accountability campaigns are about engaging voters to tell their congressmen and women to stand up for the middle class," DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said.
The question lawmakers targeted by the campaigns raise is whether politicizing the fiscal cliff negotiations, already Washington's principal focus in recent days, will make reaching an agreement harder.
"I think [these kinds of campaigns] are counter-productive. It's a misuse of a campaign committee. Both sides engage in it, [but] It poisons the atmosphere," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who was targeted in the DCCC campaign.
"If the sides begin politicizing the issue, it hurts getting a deal. It's counterproductive," he added.