“We’re not trying to hurt anyone. Rather, we’re advocating a shared American solution to an American problem,” Cote said. “This will require everyone’s participation in some way. This is not about pushing the burden on any group to the exclusion of others.”
Fix the Debt is deploying sophisticated political tactics to boost its image and win supporters. The group has been building a grass-roots network and has formed chapters in 17 states, with more due to open soon. The number of corporate members has jumped to 130 from 80 in late October.
In addition to Cote, the group’s chief executives include such corporate leaders as Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and Mark Bertolini of Aetna. The three were among chief executives and others in Washington on Wednesday for Fix the Debt events on Capitol Hill, which included private meetings with the leadership. Blankfein and other CEOs later went to the White House, where they met with President Obama and other officials.
But even as the chief executives — accompanied by Simpson and Bowles — made their rounds, they were preceded and followed by labor advocates offering an opposing view, particularly on changes to entitlement programs.
Fix the Debt is classified as a 501(c) nonprofit group, meaning it does not have to release the identity of most of its donors. The president of the organization, Maya MacGuineas, has sought meetings with both liberals and conservatives on an almost daily basis. But Fix the Debt has made limited headway with prominent Democrats and their allies, the open door at the White House notwithstanding.
The challenges the group faces were evident when Washington civil rights leaders gathered at one of several Fix the Debt breakfast meetings this month. Making the case on behalf of Fix the Debt were two well-regarded Democrats affiliated with the group: Former congressman Vic Fazio of California, now a lobbyist, and Clinton’s former budget director, Alice Rivlin. Although they were welcomed by the civil rights leaders, their pitch for Fix the Debt fell flat.
“I don’t see the civil rights and labor communities signing on,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who attended. “People care far more about creating jobs than reducing the debt.”