Lobbyists stir about debt ceiling

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer


WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- Wall Street is watching Washington's debt ceiling debate with great interest. But it's keeping its powder dry as far as lobbying is concerned, for fear of getting entangled in the potentially ugly fight over budget cuts.

The Treasury estimates U.S. borrowing will hit the debt ceiling by May 16. The amount of debt subject to the limit can fluctuate on a daily basis, and there are steps the department can take to stave off the day of reckoning. But Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, in a letter to Congress on April 4, said such measures could only buy roughly eight weeks -- which would be sometime in the first part of July.

Republicans in Congress don't want to raise the amount that the nation can borrow unless they can tie such bigger borrowing to other drastic budget cuts.

Wall Street is paying attention, with CEOs such as JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500)'s Jamie Dimon warning of dire consequences should the nation default on its debt, ranging from credit crunches to spiking interest rates.

However, the financial community isn't applying big bucks or pressure on the issue. Firms aren't hiring legions of lobbyists and they're not pressing affiliated business groups on the debt ceiling issue -- especially compared to other issues they care about, such as debit card fees and the government-owned mortgage loan companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

It's not that the big banks aren't concerned. It's just that they don't want to get pulled into the accompanying debate over what programs and services might be chopped from the budget, said several banking lobbyists who asked not to be named.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is talking with some lawmakers about the economic implications of a debt default, said spokeswoman Blair Latoff. The Chamber has always written lawmakers pressing them to raise the debt ceiling when such votes are needed, and Latoff said they're working on releasing a similar letter now.

"The Chamber has consistently conveyed our belief that the debt limit should not become a political football," she said. "The consequences are great if we don't increase the limit and given where we are today, there is no other option."

That said, the chamber is not among the handful of groups or companies that reported lobbying on the debt ceiling in the first quarter of 2011.

And many of those who did report lobbying on the debt ceiling say they're equally focused on the linked debate over the budget and spending cuts.

Those include the retiree group AARP, union groups such as AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the manufacturing firm Emerson Electric (EMR, Fortune 500).

"Our main concern right now is the way some of our programs are being entwined with this debate on the debt limit, especially Social Security and Medicare," said AARP spokeswoman Mary Liz Burns.

Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO said last week that his group is pushing to raise the debt ceiling while preventing Republicans from giving "outrageous tax cuts to people who don't need it."

The lack of intense lobbying hasn't stopped Democratic leaders such as Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont from pressing lawmakers to talk to Wall Street if they want to know the worst of the worst implications of not raising the debt ceiling. To top of page

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