By James B. Kelleher and Patricia Kranz
Sept 27 Some of America's leading CEOs are
beating a familiar path to Washington to support efforts to
avert a government shutdown and raise the U.S. borrowing limit,
warning lawmakers that the threat of the first debt default in
the country's history is damaging the economy.
The business leaders, all members of a group called "Fix the
Debt," said they went to Capitol Hill last week with a simple
message for Republicans and Democrats, but it is the same as the
one they delivered in budget standoffs of 2011 and 2012.
"Engage in whatever political machinations you wish, but do
not default," said Honeywell International Inc Chief
Executive David Cote. "Don't throw away a credit history built
up since George Washington."
For these corporate leaders, it's a bit like the movie
"Groundhog Day," where the main character lives the same day
over and over, wondering whether there is a way out of the
The U.S. government faces the possibility of a partial
shutdown on Oct. 1 as Congress struggles to pass an emergency
spending bill that the Republican-controlled House of
Representatives wants to use to defund President Barack Obama's
healthcare law. The Democrat-controlled Senate
and the White House reject the Republican position. If the
gridlock persists then a spending bill may not be passed into
law by the Tuesday deadline, triggering the shutdown.
Even though many of the CEOs believe federal spending is
excessive and a large budget deficit puts U.S. economic health
at risk, they want Congress to pass the spending bill and raise
the limit on government borrowing.
On Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 235 other
business groups joined the push. In a joint letter to Congress,
they urged lawmakers to fund the government past the deadline
and to "act expeditiously to raise the nation's debt limit."
The letter also said, "It is not in the best interest of the
employers, employees or the American people to risk a government
shutdown that will be economically disruptive and create even
more uncertainties for the U.S. economy."
The "Fix the Debt" group calls for any short-term debt deal
to be followed by fiscal reform to reduce the deficit. The CEOs
insist that avoiding a shutdown cannot be the final goal and say
a comprehensive bipartisan agreement on politically sensitive
tax and spending reforms is needed.
They concede it will be tough to achieve in the deeply
divided and gridlocked Congress.
"There's plenty of different plans; what we haven't done is
land on one that everybody buys into," said Bob Moritz, chairman
of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
Honeywell's Cote, Tenneco Inc CEO Gregg Sherrill and
Paul Stebbins, executive chairman of World Fuel Services Corp
, plan to take an even bigger group of chief executives
to Washington in October.
"It's not for us to articulate precisely what the negotiated
settlement should look like," Stebbins said. "But we're telling
them that the dysfunction is doing deep damage to the country
and to the world's perception of us."
Stebbins said the group urged lawmakers to pass the
continuing resolution and not delay Obamacare.
"It's just reckless to try to hold it hostage - to hold the
whole country hostage - because you don't like a law," Stebbins
Separately, Goldman Sachs Group Inc's CEO Lloyd
Blankfein said that although he was optimistic an agreement to
raise the debt ceiling would ultimately pass, concerns that
Congress would fail to act in time were hurting markets and the
"Saying we'll blow up the credit rating is not
responsible," Blankfein said on Wednesday on a panel of the
Clinton Global Initiative in New York.
The last close-call on a government shutdown in December
2012 and early 2013 dealt a blow to small-business confidence,
hurting lending and job growth, said Richard Hunt, head of the
Consumer Bankers Association.
Hunt told reporters on Wednesday that experienced lawmakers
understand the implications of shutting down the government, but
some newer members do not seem to realize how wide-ranging the
effects could be.
"Some of these people who just got elected believe they are
here to save the country, and they're not worried about a two-
or three-day shutdown," Hunt said. "So we need to make sure we
have adults in both parties right now."