WASHINGTON - Union leaders spent early December blasting Republican plans to back the U.S. budget off the "fiscal cliff' by cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, urging their members to call their lawmakers with a strong message against that scheme.
The AFL-CIO and MoveOn, along with other coalitions and groups, will hold national actions on Dec. 10, including flooding Congress with phone calls, petitions, and letters, with the simple message of "no cuts, tax the rich."
The pressure for unionists to weigh in rose as the ruling House Republicans - aided and abetted by their filibuster-happy GOP Senate colleagues - absolutely refused to budge from their stand for protecting the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
President Barack Obama and party members reminded Republicans "elections have consequences" and voters returned them to office Nov. 6 on that platform of increasing taxes on the rich and leaving them alone for everyone else.
The two political sides engaged in their war of words as the government moves closer to a Jan. 1 budget deadline. Then, the Bush tax cuts end, extended federal unemployment benefits stop, a higher payroll tax deduction from workers' paychecks kicks in and billions of dollars in defense and domestic spending cuts start - unless the two sides reach a compromise overriding that combination.
The big roadblock is the House, whose ruling Republicans, in obedience to their tea party wing, are adamant about extending the tax cuts for the rich.
In response, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., is circulating a petition for other reps to sign. It orders a vote on a Senate-passed bill to keep tax rates the same for the bottom 98 percent of taxpayers while letting them rise for the top two percent. Walz needs 218 reps' signatures to force a vote, but the House has fewer than 200 Democrats.
Union leaders took no specific position on Walz' move, but that's the combination they favor - along with no cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare - and that's the combo they want members to lobby lawmakers for.
"The House Republican leadership put forward a plan that would squander trillions of dollars by extending tax cuts for the richest two percent of Americans and lowering top tax rates even further," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in one statement.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, calls their plan "a 'compromise' because it includes $800 billion in tax revenues from closing unspecified 'loopholes,'" Trumka continued. "This is the same 'fuzzy math' that Governor Romney tried to sell in the last presidential campaign." Debate on the GOP nominee's idea revealed this sort of loophole closing either increases taxes on the middle class or increases the deficit."
AFSCME President Lee Saunders urged his 1.6 million members to call or e-mail their lawmakers with a simple message: "America needs jobs, not cuts."
"Congress needs to invest in jobs for working families, not cut social programs to subsidize tax breaks for the rich. Make the wealthy pay their fair share - end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent but continue tax cuts for the middle class. And no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security," Saunders continued.
The Teamsters also urged their members to call their lawmakers, providing a toll-free number for them to do so - and a video of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, addressing a business group, fixthedebt.com, that advocates cutting Social Security and Medicare. Protesters interrupted to challenge Portman.
"Fix the Debt is a bunch of CEOs who didn't worry about the deficit when George W. Bush ran it up, but now that Barack Obama is bringing it down they've got their knickers all in a twist. Watch the video to the end, and you'll see a deranged 'scholar' from the Koch-backed Heritage Foundation scream at the protesters, grab the camera and smash it to the ground," the Teamsters added..
"The Republican proposal is a non-starter," said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. "Any plan that does not include restoring the tax rates for the wealthy to Clinton-era levels is simply unacceptable. All Americans must pay their fair share in taxes if we are going to continue our economic recovery and address the budget deficit.
"Further, the Republican proposal includes harmful cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that voters rejected on Nov. 6. But House Republicans still haven't gotten the message. Voters rejected cutting healthcare, education and other vital services in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich. We urge all members of Congress to forcefully oppose any budget deal that puts working families and the economic recovery in jeopardy."
AFGE went one step further, mounted more than 100 rallies nationwide on Dec. 5 to protect Social Security - and the jobs Social Security Administration workers.
"Cutting Social Security's budget or making modifications to Medicare and Medicaid should not be part of a grand bargain to reduce the deficit. These cuts will only punish Americans who count on Social Security and Medicare by adding to backlogs and limiting assistance to the American public, especially the poor, our seniors, the disabled and families that have lost a parent or spouse," said Witold Skwierczynski, president of AFGE's National Council of Social Security Field Operations Locals.
If the automatic budget cuts kick in starting Jan. 1, AFGE cites an independent study showing there would be an immediate hiring freeze at Social Security, 300 field offices would have to close and up to 3,500 workers would be laid off.