WASHINGTON – More than a dozen business leaders from Maine are expected to gather at the White House on Friday for discussions with the Obama administration on the looming fiscal cliff and how it could affect the state’s economy.
The meeting with the White House Business Council appears to be part of the Obama administration’s ongoing fiscal-cliff dialogue — or campaign, in some eyes — as negotiations with congressional Republicans continue. President Obama or his senior staff have held numerous events with business leaders from around the nation in recent weeks.
“This is an outgrowth of that,” said Michael Cuzzi, a Portland-based public affairs consultant who is helping put together the list of attendees for the Maine-specific event. “It is the White House’s effort to continue to have that conversation at the state and local level.”
Cuzzi, a former Democratic strategist, said it is also an important opportunity for Maine businesses to communicate their concerns about the fiscal crisis to the Obama administration. The White House confirmed Friday’s meeting but declined further comment, deferring to the Maine participants. It was also unclear who in the administration would participate in the two-hour meeting.
The gathering comes at a time when the Obama administration is trying to broaden support for its proposed solution to the fiscal cliff, a phrase used to describe the combination of tax hikes on almost all taxpayers and deep spending cuts that will kick in Jan. 1 without action.
The White House has insisted that any solution include income tax cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers and increases for the wealthiest 2 percent, those earning more than $200,000 individually and families earning in excess of $250,000. Obama also wants to extend the current payroll tax cut for all earners, renew unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and cut spending by about $600 billion.
But deficit-weary Republicans insist they need more detailed plans to reduce spending — especially on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security — in order to support additional revenues. And Republican leaders have resisted tax increases for the top 2 percent, although a growing number of rank and file Republicans appear resigned to such a scenario due to broad public support.
Cuzzi declined to provide a list of the business leaders who have agreed to attend but said he expects “a few dozen” representing both major players and small businesses.
Friday’s event for Maine businesses was billed as a chance for the invitees to “directly engage senior White House and administration officials in a conversation on the immediate fiscal challenges, as well as job creation opportunities and competitiveness issues for the years ahead.”
But Cuzzi, who worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign as well as for former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Allen of Maine, said participating business leaders are not expected or required to support the White House’s or any other plan to avoid the fiscal cliff.
“All of the business leaders attending recognize the significance of the fiscal cliff on Maine and the nation,” said Cuzzi, who also writes occasional opinion columns for the Portland Press Herald. “The only criteria we have had is that business leaders recognize that, have an open mind and want to have legitimate conversations about it.”
Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, plans to be in attendance on Friday.
“I think we are all going there with an appreciation of the opportunity for us to learn more about the administration’s plan and what they are thinking about,” Connors said. “But it also gives us the opportunity to provide comment and perspective from the state of Maine.”
Absent an agreement by Congress and the White House, taxes will increase for nearly every taxpayer across the country on Jan. 1 and federal agencies will begin implementing more than $1 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts.
Economists worry that those tax hikes and spending cuts — collectively known as the fiscal cliff — could nudge the nation back toward recession. While the job losses from the spending cuts will not be felt immediately, observers fear that the political failure to avert the fiscal cliff could further undermine consumer confidence, drive down the stock market and lead to additional U.S. credit rating downgrades.
Although all sides repeatedly profess a willingness to compromise, negotiations have yielded few results.
The political rhetoric and posturing continued unabated on Tuesday as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the White House accused the other of refusing to unveil specific spending-cut proposals. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters in the Capitol that it would be “extremely difficult” to work out an agreement before Christmas.
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: