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Villaraigosa defends association with Fix the Debt campaign

December 5, 2012 |  8:03 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa defended his decision to join the Fix the Debt campaign, a national bipartisan lobbying group, even as an online petition calling for him to quit the group surpassed 8,000 signatures.

On Tuesday, Villaraigosa announced that he would be the first Democrat now in office to join the campaign, praising the group for its attempts to pursue “practical solutions” to the mounting national debt. By Wednesday, thousands had petitioned the mayor to step down from the group's steering committee, arguing that the campaign favors corporate tax reductions and cuts to entitlement programs -- traditionally Republican stances. 

In a statement released Wednesday night, Villaraigosa defended his association with the campaign.

"As a progressive Democrat, I joined the Campaign to Fix the Debt because Democrats and Republicans need to come together to find a balanced approach to our fiscal future," Villaraigosa said.

"There are tough decisions ahead and the only way that we are going to find long-term solutions is by stepping out of our ideological boxes and reaching out to a broader coalition to get something done" 

Tthe petition organizer acknowledged the need for bipartisan solutions to the debt crisis, but insisted that the Fix the Debt campaign was not the solution. 

“Fix the Debt is not bipartisan,” said Angela Garcia Combs, 50, of Hollywood, who began the online petition demanding Villaraigosa resign from the campaign.

Combs, who said she had always voted for Villaraigosa and worked for his 2005 mayoral campaign, said she first began researching Fix the Debt after reading an article about the mayor joining. She said she was shocked to learn the mayor had joined a coalition that advocates drastic cuts to Social Security and the easing of corporate tax rates.

She began the petition at Signon.org, a site run by the progressive organization Moveon.org. Its wording, addressed to Villaraigosa, reads: “Fix The Debt’s corporate backed approach to gutting our social safety net is dangerous. You should be working towards a balanced approach that will not hurt working and middle class families.”

The Fix the Debt campaign bills itself as a bipartisan lobbying group aimed at solving the nation’s debt crisis and was founded by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of President Obama’s 2010 deficit-reduction commission.

Villaraigosa has previously called for a “radical middle” when it comes to solutions for the nation’s economic problems, and in announcing his partnership with the campaign noted that it advocates a mixture of spending cuts, raising revenue and entitlement program reform.

In the statement released Wednesday, the mayor said a debt solution must include infrastructure investments, secure retirement benefits, a social safety net and a tax burden on the wealthy that is in porportion to their income.

"That's why I join President Obama in advocating a balanced approach that includes spending cuts and letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the top 2% of Americans," he said.

The campaign has earned the support of more than 80 chief executives –- including the leaders of Microsoft, Time Warner, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Bain Capital -- and has amassed a war chest of more than $60 million that it has used to buy print, digital and outdoor advertisements.

But Fix the Debt has come under fire from many on the left. Critics say the group is backed almost exclusively by corporate bigwigs looking to line their pockets with further tax breaks while passing the burden of the national debt onto those who rely on services such as Medicare and Social Security.

The Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive Washington, D.C.-based think tank, declared the campaign a “Trojan horse for massive corporate tax breaks” in a study released earlier this year.

The study noted that the companies and executives backing the campaign stand to gain as much as $134 billion if Congress approves one of their primary proposals, a “territorial tax system”  -– which would exempt companies from paying a federal income tax on foreign earnings when they bring those profits back to the U.S.

"They are feathering their own retirement nests while trying to deny ordinary Americans — including their own employees — their hard-earned nest eggs,” Scott Klinger, coauthor of the report, said in a release. “They’re simply taking advantage of the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ to push the same old agenda of more corporate tax breaks while shifting costs onto the poor and elderly.”

Another major proposal of the campaign is to “reform earned benefit programs” which opponents have largely interpreted to mean large-scale cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits.

"The mayor is now in corporate pockets,” Combs said. “We Angelinos voted him in. He can’t have us vote him in and knock on doors for him and then go join a group that wants to cut Social Security.”

She started the petition Tuesday night, and emailed the link to a few friends. While it didn’t catch on at first –- accumulating about 40 signatures by Wednesday morning -- by the afternoon the petition had grown to thousands.

Combs said she believes Villaraigosa’s decision to join the campaign is likely to shore up support and donors for a future political run, but added that she thinks it will hurt him in the long run.

“Nobody is going to believe that he’s for the working people if he’s trying to fix the debt on their backs and through their Social Security and with their money,” she said.  

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-- Wesley Lowery at Los Angeles City Hall

Follow Wesley Lowery on Twitter and Google+.

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