WASHINGTON -- More than 100 union members and progressive activists marched to a Capitol Hill hotel Wednesday to protest a meeting of corporate chiefs, lobbyists and former elected officials involved in the Campaign to Fix the Debt.
"Today we're here to protest against the Fix the Debt committee," said Bobby Tolbert, a board member of Vocal New York, one of the organizations involved in Wednesday's demonstration. "These are a bunch of executives and CEOs who are creating tax loopholes for their own benefit, while throwing working people under the bus to support a budget they can't afford."
Protesters marched through the streets near the Hyatt Regency Washington chanting, "Fix the greed! Don't fix the debt!" Under the hotel's portico, a series of speakers testified to the importance of social safety net programs.
Patricia Newson, 62, told to the crowd through a megaphone, "If they cut Medicaid, I'm going to be hurting, I'm going to be really hurting. Medicaid is basically saving my life."
The protest was organized by National People's Action, a network of grassroots organizations that advocate for economic and civil justice. Its highlight was the release of a 20-foot-tall inflatable pig, clad in a top hat and suit -- a tongue-in-cheek symbol of the Campaign to Fix the Debt's CEO Council, which is composed of CEOs at top U.S. companies.
Molly Haigh, a spokeswoman for National People's Action, said protesters had crashed the Fix the Debt meeting inside the hotel earlier that day, shouting, "Pay your fair tax share!" According to a video of the event, hotel security removed the protesters from the premises.
The Campaign to Fix the Debt is the latest in a series of endeavors and organizations affiliated with billionaire Peter G. Peterson that share funding and staff. Heralded as the most influential billionaire in American politics by the Los Angeles Times, Peterson has waged a decades-long crusade to stem the growing federal budget deficit.
Fix the Debt was launched in July 2012 as a project of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is funded in part by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Both the committee and Fix the Debt are headed by Maya MacGuineas.
In its short existence, Fix the Debt has already raised $60 million from many of America's largest corporations.
Some participants in the protest appeared unsure when asked about the future of the anti-Fix the Debt movement. The effort is to "take it to the streets, what we're doing right now," said Manny Valenzuela, a Teamsters union organizer.
"Look what we did in the election? You know, that's a telling point right there," he added.
Other protesters had specific policy proposals they wanted to see enacted, including a proposed tax on financial transactions. Tolbert, a spokesman for the protesters, referred to it as "the Robin Hood tax" and told HuffPost he hoped to see taxes raised on Wall Street firms "to take care of infrastructure problems and promote employment opportunities."
Reached for comment, a Fix the Debt spokesman said Wednesday's protest was "unfortunate" and expressed regret that "some would rather cast aspersions and misrepresent this view than engage in a constructive conversation about tackling this very real problem."
Chaired by a group of well-known public officials, Fix the Debt added New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) as a co-chair in December, alongside former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). The group's bipartisan leadership reflects the emphasis that Peterson places on fiscal policy over political rivalry. He personally funneled close to half a billion dollars to think tanks and advocacy organizations across the political spectrum between 2007 through 2011.
But Peterson's post-partisan approach has a bottom-line purpose. "The avoidance of overt political partisanship enables Peterson to engage in something more insidious: economic partisanship," wrote LA Times columnist Michael Hitzik in October. "That's what makes it worthwhile to examine his approach to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid."
A report on December's "fiscal cliff" deal from the Peterson Foundation concluded that the government was not doing enough to cut spending on programs that aid the poor and the middle class like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
"Although modest progress has been made on short-term fiscal issues, the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] outlook shows us that the nation has by no means solved its debt problem," wrote Michael A. Peterson, the son of Pete Peterson and president and COO of the Peterson Foundation. "Recent fiscal reforms have not solved the problem because they have not addressed key drivers of debt,' he continued, pointing to "our rapidly aging society" and "exploding health care costs."
As it warned Congress about the impact of sequestration and rising deficits and the need for safety net cuts, Fix the Debt ignored the more than $64 billion in corporate tax breaks that were carved out in the fiscal cliff deal. This double standard is what drove a number of the protesters to stand outside the Fix the Debt meeting on Wednesday, they said.
No one from Fix the Debt or its affiliated groups came out to speak with the protesters.
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