An influential business group called on Congress Thursday to stop playing politics with federal budget deficits and put "everything on the table," declaring that both tax increases and spending cuts are needed to restore the nation's finances to health.
More than 100 current and former chief executive officers signed a declaration released by the Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan policy-research group of business and university leaders.
The initiative is significant because it adds pressure from another influential voice to the political debate over the federal budget. The business group's push comes at a time when fiscal issues have become Washington's most prominent topic, one likely to dominate domestic politics through the 2012 elections.
"As leaders in the business community, we expect to share the effects of reductions in public programs or increases in taxes -- or more likely, both," said the statement, supported by CEOs and prominent experts in federal finance.
"We do not seek sacrifice for its own sake. But we -- and we believe all Americans -- are prepared to contribute our fair share to make our country sound, secure and strong again. What is good for America is good for American business."
The nation is expected to have a deficit of $1.6 trillion in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
Total federal debt is around $14.3 trillion. The ratings agency Standard & Poor's this week issued a negative outlook for U.S. government bonds, raising the chance that it might downgrade the United States' rating of creditworthiness for the first time. The S&P warning rattled financial markets, underscoring the threat to the U.S. economy if the budget problem is left unresolved.
"Out in the business world when this sort of thing happens, markets are very unhappy and (chief financial officers) usually get fired," W. Bowman Cutter, the managing director of the Cedars Capital Partners, said in a conference call Thursday in support of the Committee for Economic Development statement.
Significantly, most of the CEOs who signed on to the Committee for Economic Development declaration were from the services sector, and don't rely as heavily on tax credits and exemptions as multinational corporations and U.S. manufacturers do.
Vice President Biden and congressional leaders from both parties are scheduled to begin meeting May 5 on ways to trim the budget. Lawmakers are considering adding spending reductions to legislation that would raise the debt limit, which Congress will take up in May or June.