Fiscal Fights Looming, Can Simpson-Bowles Group Get Congress to Move?

Fix the Debt effort has the cash to make campaigns difficult for uncompromising members. If only it would use it effectively.

President Barack Obama's Debt Commission co-chairmen, Erskine Bowles right, and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, walk to a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010. 
National Journal
Chris Frates
Add to Briefcase
Chris Frates
Aug. 27, 2013, 2 a.m.

With its bi­par­tis­an brand­ing, bold­face names, and big money, the Cam­paign to Fix the Debt muscled its way in­to Wash­ing­ton power polit­ics last sum­mer. But as Con­gress preps for yet an­oth­er fisc­al show­down, Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans doubt the group has the swat to push either side far enough to­ward the cen­ter to se­cure its holy grail: a grand bar­gain that in­cludes en­ti­tle­ment-spend­ing re­forms and new rev­en­ues that re­duce the de­fi­cit.

Not even a $25 mil­lion war chest is enough to con­vince con­gres­sion­al in­siders that the co­ali­tion has the juice to break the par­tis­an im­passe. By ad­voc­at­ing for en­ti­tle­ment re­forms, which Demo­crats dis­like, and new rev­en­ues, which Re­pub­lic­ans re­ject, the group may have only suc­ceeded in con­vin­cing each party that they aren’t push­ing the oth­er side hard enough.

“I don’t think they ad­voc­ate in­cred­ibly strongly or ef­fect­ively,” said a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide. “For how much money they have, they should be more ef­fect­ive.”

An­oth­er Demo­crat, a Sen­ate lead­er­ship aide, put it this way, “They’d get farther if they would be will­ing to push Re­pub­lic­ans on rev­en­ues as part of the debt dis­cus­sion.”

And then there’s the Re­pub­lic­an take: “For Fix the Debt to be suc­cess­ful they have to do a lot of work on the oth­er side of the aisle,” said a seni­or GOP Sen­ate aide. “That’s where Fix the Debt’s chal­lenges are go­ing to be, on the left. Re­form is hard.”

The Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide, who is fa­mil­i­ar with the group’s work­ings, ar­gued that the group’s im­port­ance has lessened since the fisc­al-cliff battles. As the coun­try ap­proached last year’s dead­line that would have raised taxes and triggered across-the-board spend­ing cuts, law­makers pan­icked. Fix the Debt, the aide said, swooped in and ex­pertly played the role of bi­par­tis­an edu­cat­ors.

But this time around, the de­bates are fa­mil­i­ar, as law­makers dis­cuss fund­ing the gov­ern­ment bey­ond Sept. 30 and rais­ing the gov­ern­ment’s bor­row­ing lim­it.

“People aren’t really scared, cer­tainly like they were lead­ing up to the fisc­al cliff,” the aide said.

Not to men­tion that some Demo­crats view Fix the Debt war­ily be­cause it’s fun­ded by big busi­nesses in­clud­ing Gen­er­al Elec­tric, which gave $1 mil­lion to its par­ent or­gan­iz­a­tion, and JP Mor­gan Chase, which gave the cam­paign $500,000. Some Demo­crats ar­gue that the group tilts con­ser­vat­ive.

Fix the Debt spokes­man Jon Ro­mano says the group is even bet­ter pre­pared for this fall’s loom­ing fisc­al show­down than it was for last year’s fisc­al cliff. Since then, the group has in­creased its state net­work by 60 per­cent and is now act­ive in 33 states and has 625 com­mit­tee mem­bers, 120 former rep­res­ent­at­ives and sen­at­ors, and 2,500 small-busi­ness mem­bers.

“Any­body who thinks this cam­paign was go­ing to go away after the in­ac­tion of the last year is just kid­ding them­selves. We’re more equipped now for this next phase than we were, frankly, dur­ing the fisc­al cliff,” Ro­mano said. “Our mes­sage is go­ing to be loud and clear: We need Con­gress and the pres­id­ent to put a debt deal in place.”

The group plans to push Con­gress to re­con­sider the across-the-board spend­ing cuts that went in­to place earli­er this year, paint­ing it as an is­sue that hurts every­day Amer­ic­ans.

“Fifty-sev­en thou­sand kids aren’t go­ing to have Head Start be­cause Con­gress couldn’t fix the debt,” he said. “One hun­dred and thirty-six thou­sand fam­il­ies aren’t go­ing to have rent­al as­sist­ance be­cause Con­gress couldn’t fix the debt.”

But per­haps more con­vin­cing than any rhet­or­ic is the group’s bill­fold. It has the re­sources to make a lot of noise but has yet to use them ef­fect­ively. But that may be chan­ging.

Ac­cord­ing to a source fa­mil­i­ar with the cam­paign’s strategy, Fix the Debt is con­sid­er­ing us­ing some of that cash to ex­ert in­flu­ence through cam­paign polit­ics. “Twenty-five mil­lion dol­lars is a lot of money. Mem­bers don’t want to go in­to their reeelec­tion with an­oth­er head­ache and there aren’t many groups that have that kind of money.”

In­deed, that cash buys a lot of or­gan­iz­a­tion. The group has sent 150,000 let­ters to law­makers, placed 150 state op-eds, and held a Ju­ly fly-in where 55 people from 19 states held 73 meet­ings that gen­er­ated 40 me­dia men­tions in 19 mar­kets. And the group plans to do print, TV, and on­line ad­vert­ising in tar­geted dis­tricts, Ro­mano said.

But Ro­mano ac­know­ledged there is only so much out­side groups can do to push law­makers to­ward a deal.

“There’s not go­ing to be a deal be­cause of pres­sure from out­side groups like this. There’s go­ing to be a deal be­cause they want to lead on this,” Ro­mano said. “We’re go­ing to put as much pres­sure as pos­sible on them to get a deal done.”

What We're Following See More »
THROUGH AN INTERMEDIARY
Manafort Offered Russian Billionaire Briefings During Campaign
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions. Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said. 'If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,' Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email.

Source:
RAISE LATER THIS YEAR POSSIBLE
Interest Rates Don’t Change
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Federal Reserve left its benchmark interest rate unchanged and said Wednesday that it would begin to withdraw some of the trillions of dollars that it invested in the American economy after the 2008 financial crisis. The widely expected announcement reflected the Fed’s confidence in continued economic growth...most Fed officials predicted in a new round of economic forecasts that the Fed would increase rates later this year."

Source:
INCLUDES COMEY FIRING
Mueller Looking For White House Docs
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Special Counsel Robert Mueller "has asked the White House for documents about some of President Trump’s most scrutinized actions since taking office, including the firing of his national security adviser and F.B.I. director...Mueller is also interested in an Oval Office meeting Mr. Trump had with Russian officials in which he said the dismissal of the F.B.I. director had relieved 'great pressure' on him."

Source:
BUT WILL MCCAIN VOTE YES?
Graham-Cassidy to Get a Floor Vote Next Week
5 hours ago
THE LATEST
3.5M PEOPLE
All of Puerto Rico Without Power
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Hurricane Maria has knocked out power to the entire island of Puerto Rico, home to 3.5m residents, emergency officials have said."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login