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Friday, 01 March 2013 07:13

Pete Peterson’s “Fix the Debt” Astroturf Supergroup Takes Aim at Social Security and Medicare

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Peter G. Peterson’s cringe-worthy Fix the Debt campaign can hoover the kind of attention that most ordinary Americans couldn’t even dream about. If Peterson succeeds, a new era of austerity will be unleashed, and programs that the middle class and poor depend on will be decimated.

Peterson, a longtime political operative and one of the wealthiest men in the country, made his personal fortune “at the Blackstone Group on Wall Street, [where he] … cashed out with $2 billion shortly before the 2008 financial meltdown,” the Madison, Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) recently pointed out.

Now Peterson has assembled a huge war chest, recruited a high-powered supporting cast, developed a nationwide infrastructure, and is preparing  to plop a chunk of his Blackstone money into “convince[ing] Americans -- who overwhelmingly want to keep and strengthen Social Security and Medicare -- that these programs threaten our very existence as a nation.”

The Los Angeles Times called Peterson "the most influential billionaire business figure in national politics. . . . He isn't content merely to express concern about the federal deficit. His particular targets are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which he calls 'entitlement' programs and which he wants to cut back in a manner that would strike deeply at the middle class."

According to CMD’s SourceWatch, for most of the 1960s, Peterson was the Chairman and CEO of Bell and Howell Corporation. “He also worked briefly in the administration of President Richard M. Nixon as Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs (1971) and as Secretary of Commerce (1972). He also served as a chairman of Nixon's National Commission on Productivity and as the U.S. chairman of the ‘U.S.-Soviet Commercial Commission.’

“Peterson was later the Chairman and CEO of the now bankrupt Lehman Brothers (1973-1977) and its successor firm, Lehman Brothers, Kuhn, Loeb (1977-1984). He is also the former … chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York …. [and] Chairman for the Council on Foreign Relations, the founding Chairman of the Institute for International Economics and the co-founder of the Concord Coalition.  

In 2008, he founded the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

The Center for Media and Democracy is an invaluable watchdog group that over the years has become expert at ferreting out truth from fiction -- particularly as it relates to corporate-developed public relations campaigns, and industry-sponsored Astroturf groups.  

Through ALECexposed.org, CMD was largely responsible for helping focus national attention on the hither-to secret pro-corporate, anti-tax, and anti-regulatory agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Among its chief discoveries was that ALEC was deeply involved in pushing Stand Your Ground legislation in the states; legislation that resulted in the Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin last February. Over the past year, at least 42 major corporations have withdrawn support from ALEC.

According to CMD, Peterson’s Fix the Debt is “One of the most hypocritical corporate PR campaigns in decades.”   

The Campaign to Fix the Debt was created in July of 2012; its first phase consisted of signing up 127 CEOs, some of whom, according to CMD, have already kicked in $1 million. “Accompanied by elder ‘statesmen’ (many of whom have undisclosed financial ties to firms that lobby on deficit-related issues), plus four PR firms, 80 full-time staff members, 23 phony state chapters, and a raft of Peterson-funded ‘partner organization,’ Fix the Debt has targeted a budget of $60 million in ‘the first phase’ of the project.”

Phase two, according to Fix the Debt spokesperson Jon Romano, appears to consist of the hiring, training, and sending troops out into the field: Fix the Debt has developed 23 state chapters and will deploy staff to these states in a campaign that “increasingly resembles a presidential race, with grassroots-style organizing and offices in places like New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida and Michigan,” Fortune magazine reported. “It has also recruited the support of some 2,700 small businesses (along with the 160 high-profile executives already on board), and has rallied what it calls a ‘volunteer army.’"

CMD reported that the Fix the Debt campaign’s “goal is to achieve a Simpson-Bowles style ‘grand bargain’ on an austerity agenda for the United States by the nation’s 237th birthday on July 4, 2013.”

If there is one word that characterizes the Fix the Debt campaign, it might be hypocrisy. A number of Fix the Debt firms “pay a very low or even a negative average tax rate, contributing to the nation's deficit,” CMD reported. The campaign “is secretly pushing for a major tax break that would exempt profits earned overseas by U.S. firms from taxation and encourage the offshoring of U.S. jobs.”

Fortune’s Anne VanderMay pointed out in late January that “… though several CEOs in the campaign have said they want ‘shared sacrifice,’ the group has offered little in the way of specific proposals for closing loopholes or raising corporate taxes. The result has been perceptions of a ‘tremendous conflict of interest,’ says Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative.”

In addition, CMD pointed out, “While the Fix the Debt CEOs call for cuts to Social Security, many of the publicly-traded Fix the Debt firms underfund their employee pension plans -- making their workers even more dependent on the popular social insurance plan that American workers pay into with each paycheck.”

Pete Peterson’s got a plan alright; fix the debt on the backs of those least able to afford it, while continuing to fatten the wallets of his corporate pals.