WASHINGTON - Union leaders meeting with newly re-elected Democratic President Barack Obama on Nov. 13 urged him to stick to his campaign pledges to raise taxes on the rich and to aid the middle class.
And, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, unions will join him on both goals.
Trumka and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel were two of the union and progressive group leaders who met Obama at the White House on Nov. 13. The meeting is part of Obama's preparation for bargaining with the lame-duck 112th Congress over ways to cut the nation's red ink without plunging over the so-called "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and budget cuts starting on Jan. 1.
Economists of all political stripes say the impact of those moves is so great they would push the nation back into recession. But many of Congress' ruling Republicans are set in stone against any tax hikes on the rich, making the coming talks difficult.
"We're going to work together because we have the same goals: Helping the middle class, creating jobs and protecting Medicare and Social Security," Trumka told reporters after the meeting. Some of the Republicans want to reduce those programs.
Van Roekel emphasized Obama must stick by his pledge to let the Bush tax cuts for the rich - individuals earning at least $200,000 yearly and couples earning at least $250,000 - expire. Some Democrats want to raise those minimums, too.
Taxing the rich would bring in half of the $1.6 trillion in new revenue over the next decade that various deficit-cutting plans envision, Van Roekel said. But he also brought the message that Obama and lawmakers should use the talks to tackle tax fairness.
Teachers, fire fighters and other salaried workers pay taxes at higher rates than do people who earn their income from investments, Van Roekel said.
Van Roekel also cautioned Obama against letting the GOP slash the federal share of another program, Medicaid.
Medicaid now pays for health care for up to one-third of the nation's kids, Van Roekel said. If financially strapped states had to shoulder more of the Medicaid load, as the GOP proposes, those kids would get hurt by being denied care.
But the kids would suffer two ways if the feds dumped more Medicaid costs on states, Van Roekel warned. He explained that Medicaid is now the largest single item in most state budgets, ahead of K-12 education. If states must scramble to find more Medicaid dollars, school funding is a large target.
Photo: Bucket trucks from a Texas based electric company. Linemen crews had traveled north to help restore power in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. They went to Pennsylvania for about a week and then New York for about a week to work restoring power. Stephen Mitchell /Daily News-Record/AP