CEOs band together for $40 million campaign to urge action on deficit

Leading CEOs are pressuring Washington policymakers to set aside their entrenched positions and strike a deal to resolve the "fiscal cliff" and cut the deficit.

The chief executives from dozens of the nation's largest corporations are joining forces to try and break through the stalemate on spending and taxes that has bedeviled fiscal talks during the 112th Congress.

"What we're trying to do is drive support for the radical middle, the 70 percent of us ... that really want to do the right thing down the middle and recognize that the only way you can govern is through compromise," said David Cote, chairman and CEO for Honeywell.

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The executives want Congress to strike a deal that reforms entitlement programs and cuts spending, but also overhauls the tax code in a way that increases revenue. While the nation's two political parties have been stuck in a standoff over entitlement programs and taxes, the CEOs insisted that both issues have to be addressed in order to deal with the government's red ink. 

"When you actually do the math, you find out you have to do all this stuff," said Cote.

The group said it has raised $40 million in private donations for its cause, and plans to use paid media after the elections to champion its position as talks on taxes and spending heat up. Executives also plan on making their case to their employees, urging them in turn to put pressure on lawmakers to strike a compromise. Chief executives joining the cause include the heads of Aetna, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, General Electric and Boeing.

The executives were organized by the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a bipartisan group founded by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the former co-chairmen of the president's deficit-reduction commission and authors of a deficit-reduction plan that bears their names.

The chief executives involved in the new campaign hope that their outspoken advocacy can provide cover for politicians to break partisan ranks and pursue a compromise.

"We can't get this debt under control unless you make tough political decisions," said Judd Gregg, a former Republican senator and co-chairman of the campaign. "You need somebody there standing by, saying you're doing the right thing."

Gregg is also a columnist for The Hill newspaper.

Many executives described last August's debt-ceiling battle, which saw the nation come within hours of exhausting its borrowing capacity and led to the first-ever downgrade of the nation's credit rating, as a wake-up call. Now they are planning to take a proactive role in pushing Congress toward a broad, bipartisan plan to address the nation's fiscal issues.

"We know the fiscal cliff is a major threat; we know that the national debt and ongoing deficits are a huge economic threat," said Maya MacGuineas, head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, who is helping lead the campaign. "This is about putting the country back on a sustainable path for our children."

— This story was updated at 10:17 a.m.

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