Lobbyists are typically the ones asking favors of Congress, but when it comes to the debt limit, the tables have turned.
With a continuing stalemate in bipartisan White House talks, Democrats have been amping up the pressure on Wall Street and K Street to get off the sidelines of the debt and deficit reduction debate, but so far, they say they’ve gotten little more than lip service on the need to avoid a default.
Pressure from the White House and top Democrats appeared to bear some fruit Tuesday, when more than 450 CEOs signed a letter — organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Financial Services Forum and other lobbying groups — warning against a default.
Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue, in a statement announcing the letter, said that an “unprecedented default on the nation’s bills would have dire consequences for our economy, our markets and Main Street Americans.”
The U.S. Chamber and other business groups have been meeting for months with freshman Republicans and others on the need to raise the debt limit.
But Democratic Senators said business groups need to do a much better job making the case to the public, which still largely opposes any debt limit increase.
So far, the television ad war has been dominated by conservative groups opposed to a debt ceiling increase or demanding extraordinary measures, such as a balanced budget constitutional amendment, that Democrats say have zero chance of passage.
“We need business leaders, businesses large and small, to understand that failure to extend the debt ceiling will raise interest rates and hurt our economic recovery,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “If they can deliver that message in communities and cities across America, I think it could make a difference.”
He added, “A letter is fine, a press release good, but we need much more from the business community to help us.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is up for re-election next year, said the business community should air some television ads of its own on what will happen without a debt limit increase.
“They need to talk specifically about what it will do to the middle class, to Main Street and to the economy, and they should do it on television. They ought to do it in mailing. They ought to do it in every possible public way they can,” he said.
Brown charged that the business community has remained quiet because it doesn’t want to criticize the Republicans it helped elect. Businesses have been gambling on the idea that an acceptable deal will be reached before the nation hits the debt ceiling, he said.
Some business lobbyists defended their efforts, noting that corporate America has said it favors raising the debt limit multiple times.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.