Fiscal Cliff Debate Moves To TV, In Ad War

Just when you thought you never had to look at another political ad, they're back — this time focused on the big debate in Washington about taxes and spending. Unions, business groups and other special interests have taken their arguments to the nation's living rooms and computer screens.

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And the big debate over taxes and spending isn't just happening in Washington. Special interest groups with something to win or lose by a deal have taken their arguments to the nation's living rooms and computer screens. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Just when the clamor of political campaign ads had finally faded, a campaign of another sort is underway.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: America's CEOs have a message for Washington: Don't take our country over the fiscal cliff.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We need Senators Warner and Webb to continue to stand up for us by investing in job creation, extending the middle-class tax cuts and protecting Medicare and Medicaid and education from cuts.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Look, our taxes are about to go up.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Well, not the taxes on our dividends, though, right? That's a big part of our retirement.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Well, no. It's dividends, too. The rate on our dividends would more than double.

NAYLOR: Those ads and many others have been running online and on TV as Congress and the White House begin their discussions over how to avoid the end of year tax increases and spending cuts that many say would plunge the nations economy back into recession.

If it sounds like a continuation of the fall campaign, that's because it is, says Chuck Loveless. He's director of Federal Government Affairs for AFSCME, which has joined with two other unions in sponsoring ads in a campaign called Jobs, Not Cuts.

CHUCK LOVELESS: After the hard fought political campaign we have stayed in a campaign mode. That is how we are viewing this. We are running this like a campaign. We have a campaign manager. We're out there in a major way continuing to drive home this message.

NAYLOR: Loveless says the AFSCME ads are the first wave of a six figure ad buy aimed at a handful of senators and House members, urging they resist cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid. And as in a political campaign, Loveless says the union ads are also aimed at defending its position.

LOVELESS: We thought that it was extremely important to counter the highly financed effort on the other side which has raised tens of millions of dollars from large corporations that are seeking cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in order to advance their tax reform agenda which is namely to shield corporations from paying their fare share of taxes.

NAYLOR: Other groups running campaigns around the fiscal cliff include AARP, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Roundtable, a group of corporate CEO's who are urging Congress and the White House to act. Roundtable Vice President Bill Miller says his group's campaign incorporates broadcast ads and social media.

BILL MILLER: All built around trying to reach as many people as possible in order to try and put pressure on the White House, try and put pressure on the Congress, to make sure that for those who are sometimes in the bubble of Washington, that they recognize that there are a lot of people that are concerned about this.

NAYLOR: Miller says the media campaign is in addition to its standard lobbying efforts. Several of the groups' CEOs will be meeting with lawmakers next week. It's unclear what impact these ad campaigns are likely to have. Sarah Binder, who teaches political science at George Washington University, says they're all aimed at what she calls expanding the scope of the conflict.

SARAH BINDER: To broaden the audience of people who are listening in and raising some of the salience of these particular issues, whether it's Social Security or Medicare or certain tax cuts, that it, to some degree, makes it harder for members and senators, because they know they're being watched.

NAYLOR: Binder says the stakes are high because virtually every government program and tax cut is on the table. And with no resolution to the tax and spending dilemma on the horizon, the fiscal cliff ad wars are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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