They said bipartisanship is needed to find a solution that must include spending cuts and new revenue.
The partisan rift over taxes has blocked a deficit-reduction deal for two years and spilled into the 2012 campaigns. Yet as Republicans and Democrats continue to brawl, business leaders are stepping up pressure on Washington to get a deal even if it calls for more revenues -- including higher tax bills for themselves.
On Thursday, more than 80 executives of leading U.S. corporations signed a statement calling for a debt-reduction deal that would "include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues and reduces the deficit."
Several members of the group -- which included highly paid chief executives of financial and industrial corporations who would stand to pay more if President Obama succeeds in his effort to raise taxes on the wealthy -- then helped ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange to draw attention to their coalition, Campaign to Fix the Debt.
Alarmed last year by Washington's brinkmanship over raising the nation's debt ceiling, these executives -- including Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs -- are mobilizing to try to avert another such crisis at the turn of this year. After the election, they plan to press the two parties to compromise on a long-term substitute for the pending "fiscal cliff" -- the immediate, across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases that otherwise would hit nearly all Americans on Jan. 1, potentially putting substantial new strain on a still-weak economy.
The business leaders' message contrasts with the campaign rhetoric in both parties. While the wealthy executives seem to answer Obama's call for "economic patriotism" by their tentative embrace of higher personal taxes, in interviews many of them reject his "pay-your-fair-share" talk as class warfare, and a good number oppose his re-election.
But their position also contradicts the stand of Mitt Romney and other Republicans, who say that all tax increases are "job killers," that the annual federal budgets can be balanced with spending cuts alone and that any overhaul of the tax code should be "revenue neutral," neither raising nor lowering the government's total tax collection.
"To say that you can solve this without increases in taxes is ludicrous," said David Cote, the chief executive officer of Honeywell, a Republican and a former member of Obama's 2010 Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission. He added, "Most wealthy people get it. They just don't want to be put in the position, though, where you pay more in the taxes and the profligate spending continues."
They even indicated a willingness to agree to generating more revenues and by implication higher tax bills on themselves -- if those are part of a bipartisan compromise that also reduces the long-term costs of the entitlement programs, chiefly Medicare and Medicaid.