Washington • Debate over the "fiscal cliff" has money pouring into television, print, radio and online ads, picking up where the wall-to-wall election campaign left off.
As Republicans and the White House joust over a way around big year-end tax increases and spending cuts, outside groups on both sides are weighing in with major ad campaigns aimed at politicians and voters alike.
The latest is Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-backed conservative group last seen dropping more than $80 million on ads assailing President Barack Obama in his re-election campaign.
Its new $500,000 buy, announced Wednesday, has attributes familiar to viewers acquainted with the political attack-ad genre. It features dreary, dread-inducing music, foreboding narration and grainy footage. All that's changed is its aim. Instead of denying Obama re-election, the intent is to defeat his policy.
"So far, a huge tax increase is his solution," a narrator says, before imploring viewers to personally call the president.
If anything, Crossroads is slow to enter the fiscal cliff fray.
Within days of Obama's Nov. 6 victory over Republican Mitt Romney, outside groups were keying up ad campaigns designed to shape the fiscal debate. The range of participants from business interests opposing higher tax rates on the wealthy to unions that want to raise them and advocates for the elderly opposed to cutting benefits reflects the messy tangle of issues that Congress and the White House are dealing with.
In general, the ads are less sharp-edged than the most caustic 2012 election spots. In many cases, the intent is to bring pressure to bear on the whole of Congress, not just a particular member or group of members. But combined, the ads reflect the high stakes involved and intense competition to shape the outcome.
AARP, the 37-million-member group that lobbies for the elderly, is running ads nationally that home in on two key aspects of the debate: potential changes to Medicare and Social Security. They lambaste Washington politicians as a whole for even talking about Medicare and Social Security changes "behind closed doors."
In one of the TV ads, a narrator speaks as images of seniors hugging grandchildren, mulling drug choices at a pharmacy and looking forlornly at the camera flash across the screen. "We'll all pay the price" if hasty cuts are included in a year-end deal, the narrator says.
Labor unions that traditionally support Democrats are producing more explicitly political advertising. Three of them The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union and the National Education Association joined to buy TV and radio ads targeting specific lawmakers in both parties in Colorado, Missouri, Virginia, Alaska and Pennsylvania. The ads ask voters to call their senators and congressman and push for a deal that protects the "middle class."
"We shouldn't raise taxes on the middle class," the narrator says in one radio ad. "But if Congress fails to act soon, that's exactly what will happen."
Other ads hammer home the stakes of the debate, something all of the groups that have invested money in "cliff" ads seem to agree on.
An online ad from The Business Roundtable features a gloomy narrator making that case that Congress will be to blame for an economic slowdown and sharply higher taxes if no deal is made. It includes foggy images of two key players in the debate, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"If Congress does not act, growth will stall, jobs will be lost and our nation's credit will be harmed. If Congress does not act, America's entire economy will be put at risk," the narrator says over images of Reid, Boehner and the Capitol dome.