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Protesters pressure Villaraigosa to step down from Fix the Debt group

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in Sept.

A dozen protesters went to City Hall on Tuesday to present Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa with a petition demanding he step down from the Fix the Debt campaign, a day after the mayor distanced himself from the group's push for large-scale cuts to Social Security and Medicare and stressed the need for bipartisan cooperation.

Villaraigosa announced last week that he was joining the steering committee of Fix the Debt, a bipartisan lobbying group urging President Obama and Congress to address the national debt before the country goes off the so-called fiscal cliff.

That prompted backlash by some on the political left, who cited the group's recommendation of large cuts to Social Security and Medicare. As of Tuesday morning, almost 14,000 people had signed an online petition demanding Villaraigosa step down from the group.

"He hasn't answered my calls or returned my emails," said Angela Garcia Combs, of Hollywood, who started the petition.

The mayor, who has previously called for a "radical middle" of moderate stances and compromises in order to address the nation's economic woes, clarified Monday night that his personal views don't align completely with those of Fix the Debt.

"I believe we can -– and must –- reform Social Security and Medicare as part of a balanced approach to the nation’s fiscal challenges. These reforms are needed to strengthen our essential entitlement programs for generations to come," Villaraigosa said in a statement.  

But the mayor has stressed that a solution to the national debt must include more than entitlement cuts, and that new revenue streams and tax increases must be on the table. 

The Fix the Debt group includes a broad membership of former lawmakers and corporate leaders. But it has been scrutinized by the political left, which accuses it of claiming bipartisanship while pushing for corporate tax breaks. 

Although the group already included several prominent Democrats, Villaraigosa was the first Democrat currently in office to sign on to the campaign.

Protesters argued that Villaraigosa's statements about his positions on Social Security and Medicare came too late, and that Fix the Debt remains controlled by corporate interests.

"They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," said Richard Eskow, a blogger for the Campaign for America's Future, a progressive organization.

"The primary agenda for these folks is to lower taxes for millionaires, billionaires and corporations," he said.

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-- Wesley Lowery at Los Angeles City Hall

Follow Wesley Lowery on Twitter and Google+.

Photo: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in September. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

 
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