WASHINGTON - The AFL-CIO is ramping up its campaign to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from threatened future cuts by the congressional so-called "Super Committee." That body is charged with finding ways to cut federal deficits by at least $1.3 trillion over the next decade.
Richard Trumka, the federation's president, held an emergency press conference this morning to declare that the labor movement was determined to fight any cuts in Social Security and Medicaid, regardless of who was proposing the cuts. The press conference was called because of anger in the labor movement following reports last week that six super committee Democrats proposed cuts to Medicare and changes to Social Security that unions oppose.
The federation's president said the campaign to save Social Security was so important to the labor movement that the AFL-CIO would "temporarily set aside the jobs campaign, if necessary, to stop the scheme."
Trumka declared, in this morning's press conference: "If we have to temporarily drop our jobs campaign to do this, we will."
Trumka said that even though organized labor, including himself, has talked with members of the super committee - including its six Democrats - he was surprised by new media reports that show a majority of the committee's Democrats are proposing up to $500 billion in Medicare cuts over ten years.
That Democratic majority also proposed changing the calculation of future Social Security cost of living increases, to make them smaller than forecast. In return, the Democrats demanded that GOP members of the super panel agree to tax increases, especially on the rich and that the GOP agree to close corporate loopholes.
Republican members have already rejected the loophole closing and any taxes on the rich, despite the readiness of committee Democrats to make concessions on Social Security and Medicare. The super committee faces a Nov. 23 deadline for its recommendations to Congress.
The labor federation is strongly opposed to the position taken by the super committee Democrats and says it is letting them know it.
"The middle class and lower class have already given enough" in prior budget moves, Trumka said. "It's time for the rich to give a little bit."
The AFL-CIO is asking 700,000 union activists to call or e-mail Congress opposing all of the super committee's proposed cuts.
Labor's campaign against the cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will include leafleting at work sites, media advertising and phone banking, Trumka said. In a statement directed at Democrats thinking about joining Republicans in the budget cutting, he also warned: "It would be very difficult for us to support, or mobilize for, any candidate at any level" who supported cutting Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.
He turned aside a question about what labor would do if President Obama endorsed such moves. But Trumka added that if he did so, "It would have a very damaging effect."
Twenty to 25 other groups will join the federation's forces in the campaign to keep Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid intact. Other groups include the NAACP, MoveOn.org and National Christian Leadership Conference, Trumka said.
The fed also is pushing its own alternative methods to close the budget gap.
Trumka identified several measures to accomplish this. They include, but are not limited to, taxing capital gains at the rate of ordinary income, "letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire - that takes you half the way all by itself" - and limiting corporate deductibility of interest used for loans that finance leveraged buyouts.
On the spending side, Trumka said labor's proposals focus on slowing the rising cost of health care, by giving the government power to negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare and Medicaid, by adding a "public option" to health care reform, and by allowing re-importation of prescription drugs from abroad, where they are cheaper.