WASHINGTON -- CEOs from more than 80 major U.S. companies, including Boeing and Microsoft, are pressing Congress to reduce the federal deficit by raising taxes and cutting spending. The deficit and how to tame it has become a key theme in the presidential campaign.
They warned in a statement issued Thursday that the uncertainty spawned by the deficit, which has topped $1 trillion for four consecutive years, is dampening businesses' hiring and investment and stifling the fragile economic recovery.
The CEOs said the solution requires a combination of higher taxes and reduced government spending including on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. They also seek federal investment in infrastructure and math and science education.
The CEOs say no matter which party wins on November 6, taxes increases are inevitable.
"There is no possible way; you can do the arithmetic a million different ways" to avoid raising taxes, said Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna. "You can't tax your way to fix this problem, and you can't cut entitlements enough to fix this problem."
Bertolini added that he and other CEOs are against raising taxes unless spending cuts come with it.
"What it really comes down to is if we still have the political will to be a great country," Dave Cote, chairman and CEO of Honeywell International Inc., said in a statement.
The CEOs head a diverse array of corporations, including Steve Ballmer from Microsoft, James McNerney from Boeing and Daniel Fulton from Federal Way-based Weyerhaeuser. Microsoft Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith is also named.
CEO’s from Aetna Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Time Warner Cable Inc., Merck & Co. Inc., General Electric Co., Dow Chemical Co., Verizon Communications Inc., Bank of America Corp., AT&T Inc. and Allstate Corp. are also on the list.
Some members of the group rang the opening bell Thursday at the New York Stock Exchange.
The group endorses the proposals of a special bipartisan commission that called for about $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases to save around $4 trillion.
Republican politicians and lawmakers have vigorously opposed tax increases. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would lower deficits mostly through deep spending cuts and eliminating unspecified tax deductions. He also wants to lower the top tax rates on corporations and individuals.
President Barack Obama has proposed reducing the deficit by slowing spending gradually, to avoid suddenly tipping the economy back into recession. He would raise taxes on households earning more than $250,000 and impose a surcharge of 30 percent on those making more than $1 million.
The executives say they aren’t endorsing either candidate’s proposal. They want an overhaul of the tax code that would reduce or eliminate deductions, credits and loopholes.
The deficit, the shortfall created when the government spends more in a year than it collects, currently has the government borrowing about 31 cents for every dollar it spends.
A year-end deadline looms for Congress and the White House to work out a deal on the deficit. Otherwise across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases will automatically kick in, slicing about $100 billion from federal budgets and raising taxes by $400 billion as the nation goes over the so-called "fiscal cliff" in early January.