WASHINGTON - On the eve of President Obama's Dec. 3 summit on jobs labor and progressive leaders held a press conference today urging the White House and Congress to adopt the AFL-CIO's five-point jobs plan to combat record unemployment. The plan was unveiled two weeks ago at a forum attended by many of the progressive and minority leaders who will be at the White House meeting tomorrow.
The leaders also used the press conference to condemn the "Budget Commission" proposed by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. They released a statement signed by more than 30 major labor and progressive organizations warning that the commission was a ruse that would provide a back door route for those seeking to cut public investments like Social Security and Medicare.
The Conrad commission would override the normal legislative process, replacing it with expedited procedures prohibiting amendments and limiting debates. Arguing that at a time of high unemployment the country should not lock into a plan of economic austerity, the statement calls on Congress and the White House "to act decisively to prevent the creation of such an extraordinary and undemocratic budget commission."
"The so-called budget commission is pure mischief," declared the economist James Galbraith, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. "Budget deficits are the medicine, the life support system that has kept the economy from imploding altogether. If we don't spend what we must to create jobs the deficit will never come down."
Galbraith said there is "nothing a deficit commission can come up with, other than massive job creation, that can bring the deficit down over the long term."
He noted that opinion polls show that the public sees job creation, not deficit reduction, as the first priority for the economy.
The first point of the five part AFL-CIO jobs plan discussed at the press conference was the federation's demand that the lifeline for jobless workers be extended. "Extending unemployment benefits and COBRA health benefits and food assistance is not just a lifeline but is, in itself, a jobs program," said Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff of the AFL-CIO, as she explained how the extensions represent immediate job-creating stimulus that flows into the economy.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., urged support for a another point in the federation's jobs plan, the direct creation by the federal government of public service jobs restoring the environment, repairing schools and cleaning up abandoned houses left behind as a result of the mortgage crisis. He said $40 billion spent in this area could result in 1 million well-paid full-time jobs addressing critical needs and laying the groundwork for the later development of many more private sector jobs in local communities.
"When we needed to do this in the past, such as during the Great Depression of the 1930's, we were able to do it. It worked. We can and must do it again," Ellison declared.
While all the speakers said the stimulus package approved earlier this year was important, they all said an additional new package that focuses purely on job creation is needed now. They all scored Republicans who they said weakened the first package for trying to claim that the stimulus was not effective. "Without it, unemployment would be at least two points higher," said Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's future.
Another point in the AFL-CIO jobs plan envisions funds from a second stimulus being used to address some of what it says are at least $3 trillion in unmet infrastructure needs. "We should put people to work to fix our broken-down school buildings and invest in transportation, green technology, energy efficiency and more," said Lee.
The leaders said the federation's call for increasing aid to state and local governments, in still another section of its jobs plan, is critical because layoffs by local governments threaten the entire economic recovery. State and local governments, Galbraith noted, have a $178 billion budget shortfall this year alone - while the recession creates greater need for their services. "States and communities must get help to maintain critical frontline services, prevent massive job cuts and avoid deep damage to education just when our children need it most," said Galbraith.
The final point in the federation's job plan calls for putting TARP funds to work for Main Street. The federation says some of the billions of dollars in leftover bank bailout funds should be put to work creating jobs by enabling community banks to lend money to small and medium-sized businesses who could then use the funds to help create jobs.