WASHINGTON – Chief executives of more than 80 big U.S. corporations, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Boeing, joined forces on Thursday to pressure Congress to reduce the federal deficit with tax reform and spending cuts.
The U.S. corporate chiefs said it was urgent and essential to put in place a bipartisan plan to fix America's debt.
"We are one deal away from fixing the debt and putting our nation back on a stronger economic footing that can restore us to greater job growth," Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said in an statement backed by 86 other CEOs.
"If the Congress can commit to a plan outline as early as possible after the election, it will restore business confidence in our economy and investment will follow," he added.
If Congress fails to reach a deficit reduction deal by the end of the year, it will automatically trigger big spending cuts and tax increases in 2013. This so-called "fiscal cliff" would hit the still-recovering U.S. economy hard.
In a conference call featuring a number of the CEOs, Honeywell boss Dave Cote said Congress should reach an agreement during the "lame-duck" session after the election to come up with a more long-term solution early next year.
"From my perspective, there's a potential disaster, or a potential opportunity here," Cote said. "If we go off the fiscal cliff, we could have a recession that in my view is worse than any economist is forecasting today."
The U.S. deficit this year will top $1 trillion for a fourth straight year, pushing the national debt past $16 trillion. While the United States currently borrows at record-low interest rates, investors worry this will change.
The CEOs' statement was organized by a group called "The Campaign to Fix the Debt," which is urging Washington to set aside partisan differences to put the country on a sustainable fiscal path.
The nonpartisan group said it had raised $30 million over six weeks to help fund a national campaign to push the issue.
A spokesman for the group said the money would fund digital, print and TV ads, as well as 20 to 25 state chapters planned nationwide. Chapters are already open in Tennessee and New Hampshire, he said.
The group said any fiscal plan must be bipartisan, tackle all areas of the budget and include tax reform. It also urged the government to reform and improve the efficiency of healthcare programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
"This is about putting the country back on a path that's sustainable for us and for our children," Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said on the conference call.
The CEO group said recommendations of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission provided an effective framework for a fiscal plan. The commission's proposal has several options, including trimming tax rates for all income groups.
Simpson-Bowles also calls for slashing many popular tax deductions and adding them back only selectively. Cote said something like Simpson-Bowles should become a mandatory fallback if Congress cannot reach an agreement on its own soon.
Congress is due to reconvene on Nov. 13 and lawmakers could take some kind of partial action - including possibly extending some tax cuts, at least temporarily - before the year ends and the new Congress and presidential term begins in January.
In the meantime, the debt campaign is working on adding more CEOs to its roster, particularly in sectors that are not well represented now, like energy and technology. The Silicon Valley high-tech community is expected to be more receptive to the pitch than the energy industry though.