AFL-CIO’s Liz Shuler calls GOP demands an ‘affront to working people’
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler | Michael Dwyer/AP

WASHINGTON—AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler is describing the GOP demands to undo the progress made by the Biden administration in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling as an “affront to working people” and she has branded those demands as a complete cave-in by Speaker Kevin McCarthy to the radical right in his party.

Brushing aside protests from workers and their allies, the right-wing House Republican majority approved a $1.5 trillion increase in the U.S. debt limit coupled with 22%—at least—reductions in spending, and axing everything from green jobs to battling climate change to Project Labor Agreements for federally funded construction. The party-line vote was 217-215.

House passage, however, may be as far as this measure, HR2811, will get. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., declared it “dead on arrival” there. Democratic President Joe Biden said he’ll accept only a “clean” debt limit hike to prevent a first-ever U.S. default—and veto anything else.

The debt limit hike is important because it will let the government keep paying money to cover past bills. If the limit is breached and the government defaults, millions—including Social Security and Medicare recipients and federal workers—will feel immediate financial pain.

Biden himself forecasts a default would immediately cost 870,000 jobs and throw the economy back into a depression. Other foes said the job losses could be even higher.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler was blunt about the bill’s impact, criticizing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who pushed the legislation through at the behest of his radical right Freedom Caucus, the 40-lawmaker tail that wags the Republican House dog.

“House @SpeakerMcCarthy’s default debt ceiling plan is an affront to working people,” Shuler tweeted at 3:16 pm, just before the vote. “The AFL-CIO is strongly urging Congress to reject this plan to careen our nation into default, which would tank the economy and put millions of workers at risk.

“The Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 poses an imminent threat to the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Americans, life-supporting benefits, and programs for veterans, seniors, children, and low-income families,” her second tweet said.

“This misguided legislation will also harm our economy by slashing vital federal investments in clean energy & new technologies to expand domestic manufacturing & put millions of people to work.”

Adds more details

AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel added more details.

McCarthy’s “reckless legislation would have devastating real-life effects on working families, students, veterans, the elderly and the disadvantaged,” Samuel wrote.

“The cuts would mean the end of Medicaid coverage for as many as 10 million low-income Americans. Countless children, families, and veterans would lose food assistance. The plan would reverse targeted debt relief for 40 million student borrowers and decrease aid to all 6.6 million Pell Grant recipients. It also would eliminate more than 200,000 Head Start slots for children.”

Veterans’ care, vaccines and personal protective equipment against the coronavirus, mass transit money, and “rebuilding our manufacturing base around clean energy jobs” would also be on the chopping block, Samuel said.

“Veterans care needs to grow, not shrink,” so the VA can care for the rising numbers of badly injured, but surviving veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, Government Employees President Clarence Kelley, himself a veteran, wrote lawmakers. “For this reason alone, HR2811 should be defeated.” Biden wants a 5.4% increase in the VA’s budget.

And Treasury Employees President Tony Reardon said HR2811 would widen the federal deficit by $120 billion over a decade. That’s because McCarthy would eliminate money to hire and train 87,000 more IRS agents to go after rich and corporate deadbeats.

McCarthy’s cuts “also could jeopardize unspent funds in the multiemployer pension rescue plan, the ‘Butch Lewis Act,’” part of Biden’s anti-covid American Rescue Plan Act, Samuel said. “Destroying the retirement income security of more than one million hardworking Americans is an outrageous and unacceptable price for a debt deal.”

McCarthy “also would dim hopes of transitioning to a cleaner energy economy and rebuilding our manufacturing base around clean energy jobs,” Samuel said. But McCarthy’s bill tracks overall Republican support of fossil fuels, tax cuts for the rich, and denial of global warming.

Jason Walsh, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, the top union-environmentalist coalition, expanded on Samuel’s point. He called McCarthy’s bill “the Ship U.S. Jobs Overseas Act.”

“This bill would destroy Inflation Reduction Act investments that are already spurring job growth around our country building our clean energy future here at home,” he said. The measure “also kills policies” like Project Labor Agreements and prevailing wages “to ensure the jobs created are good-paying, safe jobs with workers who are properly trained. “

“And, they get rid of vital credits that would grow clean energy jobs in rural communities and communities that have suffered job losses for decades due to offshoring of manufacturing jobs.” Walsh estimated the tax credits would help create “green” factories employing 1.7 million people.

“Republicans in Congress want America’s energy future made overseas. President Biden and Democrats took action to manufacture it here. It’s as simple as that,” Walsh concluded.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.