As the fiscal cliff debate dragged on late last year, the presence of some deep corporate pockets behind the public push for a “grand bargain” on the federal budget wasn’t exactly a secret. The spate of profiles that appeared soon before Christmas about Maya MacGuineas, the professional budget scold who is face of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, all noted her skill in wooing business backers. (Suzy Khimm’s piece for The Washington Post was even headlined, “Maya MacGuineas’s CEO-powered crusade against the deficit.”)
But until Wednesday, I hadn’t seen a piece in traditional prestige media that really homed in on the interests behind Fix the Debt, how the group’s backers spend their time when they’re not calling for deficit deals, and how their interests might dovetail with the particular flavor of cost-cutting the group tends to favor. So it was great to see Nicholas Confessore’s article, “Public Goals, Private Interests in Debt Campaign,” get prominent play from The New York Times.
The top half of Confessore’s story is largely devoted to establishing the corporate bona fides of the members of Fix the Debt’s board and steering committee. (Update: the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney adds some more detail here.) This part, toward the end, tries to tease out the implications of those relationships:
Those involved with the campaign say they have tried to separate their advocacy for Fix the Debt and their private work for clients. Vic Fazio, a former Democratic congressman from California who is on the campaign’s steering committee, is a lobbyist at Akin Gump, a firm whose clients include KKR, a leading private equity shop, and the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, an industry trade group.
Mr. Fazio said that he and other people involved with the campaign had tried to set aside their parochial interests and had assumed that any grand bargain between Mr. Obama and Congress would include some elements they did not like
But so far, at least, the companies and industries most closely linked to Fix the Debt have been aggressive in defending their narrower legislative interests.
The fiscal deal preserved the carried interest loophole, eliminated most of a large prospective increase in dividends taxes and preserved a tax break, known as the active financing exception, that allows G.E. and other multinational companies to avoid paying United States taxes on overseas profits.
The deal also forestalled large automatic cuts in military spending, a boon to contractors like Honeywell. The company’s chief executive, David M. Cote, is a co-founder of Fix the Debt; the group’s “core principles,” which call for retrenchment in entitlement programs like Social Security, make no mention of military spending, which constitutes about a fifth of the federal budget.
Good stuff, and well worth your time if you haven’t read it yet.
— After you’ve read Confessore, also check out this similar piece written more than six weeks earlier by The Huffington Post’s Christina Wilkie and Ryan Grim. HuffPost has probably tracked the money and influence behind Fix the Debt and similar groups more assiduously than any other media outlet with a mass audience (see for example this piece by Wilkie and Paul Blumenthal), and in their Nov. 25 article Wilkie and Grim focus on some of the same companies and issues that Confessore wrote about this week.