CAPITOL HILL — Business leaders are pressing Congress for action, and the White House summoned ordinary Americans as Washington heads toward steep automatic tax hikes and spending cuts. Democrats and Republicans have failed for the past year to prevent this so-called fiscal cliff from going into effect January 1. Members of the business community were on Capitol Hill to deliver a stern message: reach a deal to reduce the federal deficit now, or face ugly economic consequences next year.
“Politics has to go aside. That is what we are telling them,” . National Small Business Association Chairman Chris Holman told reporters.
Inaction on the debt will be costly, according to insurance executive Mark Bertolini.
“We are 802 hours away from having a big problem that will send the economy into recession and put people out of work. And we do not want to see that happen,” he said.
By contrast, a deficit-reduction pact would boost economic confidence.
“Investment hates uncertainty. And as soon as that is resolved, you will see the economy begin to kick [expand] again,” Holman said.
But Washington’s partisan stand-off on deficit reduction remains. Republicans warn of job losses if tax hikes on the wealthy favored by Democrats go into effect.
"The proposal the president has put forward to solve the fiscal cliff raises taxes on almost a million small businesses who employ 25 percent of the workforce," noted Senator John Thune.
Democrats argue federal spending cuts advocated by Republicans will disproportionately harm the poor and the middle class.
"I will not sign onto a deal that throws the burden of deficit reduction right onto the backs of families and communities that have already sacrificed so much," warned Senator Patty Murray.
If no deal is struck, massive tax hikes and devastating spending cuts that neither political party wants - the so-called “fiscal cliff” - will take effect in less than five weeks.
“We do not have a lot of time here,” warned President Barack Obama.
He says a typical family would have to pay more than $2000 in new taxes next year.
“That means less money for buying groceries, less money for filling prescriptions, less money for buying diapers,” Obama said.
The president brought a group of middle-class Americans to the White House to demand action on his proposals. But the president’s public outreach is drawing criticism from the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell.
“Rather than sitting down with lawmakers of both parties and working out an agreement, he [Obama] is back on the campaign trial, presumably with the same old talking points that we are all quite familiar with,” McConnell said.
But Americans are speaking out, including small business owner Cookie Driscoll, who says the United States is drowning in debt.
“It is a house of cards that is slowly coming down,” Driscoll said.
President Obama met with congressional leaders for initial debt consultations two weeks ago. Since then, no face-to-face meetings have been held.