The final votes in this year’s election are still being counted, and some lawmakers already are facing threats of 2014 primary challenges if no agreement is reached to avoid automatic spending cuts and tax increases in January.
Lobbyists for industries that stand to lose money if the government goes over the so-called fiscal cliff are working Capitol Hill hallways. And Democratic and Republican groups active in the just-finished presidential race are pelting senators and representatives with advertisements and phone calls pressing for their favored version of a budget deal.
There are lighthearted methods: To the tune of Jingle Bells, Democratic activists on Dec. 10 arrived at the home state offices of Montana’s two senators singing: “Enough is quite enough. That’s why we’re here to stay. It’s time to raise some revenue and make the Scrooges pay.” Senator Jon Tester’s aides sang along.
Yet those moments are an aberration from harder-edge messages also being delivered to lawmakers.
“Members of Congress need to know that we are watching, and we will hold them accountable,” said Garlin Gilchrist II, national campaign director of MoveOn.org, a Democratic-leaning online organization. The “accountability” piece includes “maybe even primarying people who vote the wrong way,” he said.
Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit that helps fund the anti-tax Tea Party, also has its eye on future elections.
“We are not big on threats, but we have clearly taken Republicans to task on spending, wind energy and other issues over the years. And we’ll do so on this,” said Tim Phillips, AFP president. “AFP has a history of good, strong grassroots organization in districts back in the states. We’ve shown a willingness to fund an effort to talk to the American people.”
Election-style ad wars also are under way, with some members and their constituents being lobbied from both sides of the fiscal talks. Three unions and MoveOn are running commercials in a few of the same districts and states as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a Washington-based Republican-leaning nonprofit.
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, who is facing re-election in 2014 in Louisiana, a state that voted for Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, is among those targets.
A radio ad by Crossroads asks listeners to call Landrieu’s office and “tell her Washington needs to stop the spending and give us a balanced plan.” MoveOn wants her to instead focus on the voters who elected her -- people who are more concerned about protecting their benefits.
“Senator Landrieu, I can’t afford any cuts,” a woman says in a MoveOn television ad.“That’s why I voted for you and President Obama to protect Social Security and Medicare.”
Although facing competing pressures, Landrieu said she’s “not caught in the middle, I am comfortable in the middle.” The three-term incumbent said she doesn’t “respond to either of them” because “the people of my state know I am right in the middle” and “that’s where they want me to be.”
The outside advertising doesn’t “move me too much one way or another,” she said. “I’m always happy to hear from people in the state about their views about what we can do, but I’ve been very clear from the beginning that we’ve got to do both: We’ve got to raise revenues and find a way to cut spending. I’m going to remain open to debate and to make a decision based on the proposals that come our way.”
Joining Landrieu on Crossroads’ radar are Democratic Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
“Those senators are persuadable based on their past voting records and the largely center-right constituencies in the states they represent,” Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for Crossroads, said in an e-mail. In addition, Romney won all those states.
The $240,000 radio buy began this week, according to a Crossroads news release. In addition, the nonprofit, guided by former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove, spent $500,000 on a national cable TV ad that says President Barack Obama’s plan “is all about tax increases.”
MoveOn’s TV ads target Landrieu and five others: Democratic Senators Max Baucus of Montana and Charles Schumer of New York and Republican Representatives Bill Young of Florida, Gary Miller of California and Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Gilchrist said those members were chosen because they are either Republicans in districts that Obama won or are Democrats who haven’t explicitly said they’re against cutting benefits on such programs as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Cantor is getting attention because he’s the House majority leader.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee today released radio and online ads aimed at 21 “vulnerable House Republicans” -- most of whom come from districts that either voted for Obama or narrowly went for Romney.
The movie-trailer-style web ads show a car zooming along a road and plunging off a cliff as a narrator says, “Tea Party House Republicans are holding the middle class hostage to get more tax cuts for millionaires.”
“This holiday season, if you make only one phone call, send only one e-mail, tell Congressman Gary Miller, ‘Don’t drive us off the cliff,’” the narrator says in one tailored to the California representative.
Business executives are stepping up their efforts to push for a deal. In a letter yesterday, more than 150 chief executive officers, including JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Lloyd Blankfein, called on Obama and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to compromise on a deficit- reducing budget agreement that would include new tax revenue and spending cuts.
The International Franchise Association, a Washington-based group that advocates for small business, responded that CEOs have been “courted by President Obama’s recent charm offensive.” The CEOs are “out of touch” with how raising taxes will impede job growth, the IFA said in a statement yesterday.
The defense industry is gearing up for a December push against automatic defense cuts, which total $500 billion over 10 years. Four lobbyists for the Aerospace Industries Association are canvassing Capitol Hill to push lawmakers to consider the job losses that the defense cuts could yield, often with lobbyists of Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and other key AIA members in tow, said Chip Sheller, a spokesman for the Arlington, Virginia-based group.
AIA officials met on Dec. 10 to discuss a possible print ad campaign and other marketing for later this month to raise awareness about the impact of the cuts on defense jobs, Sheller said. The group also is planning a “social media blitz” on Facebook and Twitter that will use some of its research on the impact of defense cuts, he said.
On the political side, groups are turning to Christmas themes and organized events to engage the public in the debate.
MoveOn and organized labor partnered for the Dec. 10 caroling office visits and rallies across the country that involved more than 3,000 people, Gilchrist said.
Americans for Prosperity has a “Merry Taxmas” website that includes “naughty” and “nice” lists of senators and representatives. By clicking on a member’s photo, a visitor can send a Twitter message that either says, “We’ll tax your eye out, kid” (for the naughty) or “Thank you for standing up for our economic freedom” (for the nice).
Obama has also embraced Twitter as a tool in the effort, promoting a “My2K” hash tag that people can use to say what a $2,000 tax increase would mean to them. That’s the average increase that would take effect if Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal.
One Tea Party group, Let Freedom Ring, is trying to grab attention by asking people to mail a dollar bill to their representative with the message, “Can you spend THIS much less each year?”
The AARP, which lobbies on issues important to older Americans, spent $10 million on national TV and print ads. One commercial says, “We can do better than a last-minute deal that would hurt all of us.”
The group wants Congress to resist curbs to spending on Social Security and Medicare. It is also pressing Congress to oppose a change in the way Social Security benefit increases are calculated on an annual basis.
Three labor unions that also oppose entitlement spending cuts -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union and the National Education Association -- have combined resources for an ad campaign targeting members of Congress they say have shown an openness to compromise.
These lawmakers include Democratic Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who have pushed for a longer-term agreement to reduce federal budget deficits, and Republican Representatives Denny Rehberg of Montana, who’s leaving Congress after losing a Senate race, and Pat Tiberi of Ohio, a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Primary challenges pushed by far-right or far-left groups have mixed results.
MoveOn and other progressive groups helped Ned Lamont, a businessman, defeat Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic primary. Lieberman then became an independent and ran as a third-party candidate in the general election, defeating Lamont.