WASHINGTON -- Digging in for the looming battle over deficit-reduction, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will make organized labor's case Thursday against cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, declaring the doomsday debt talk in Washington a "manufactured crisis."
"There is no fiscal cliff," Trumka says in prepared remarks to the National Mediation Board Conference in Washington on Thursday. "What we’re facing is an obstacle course within a manufactured crisis that was hastily thrown together in response to inflated rhetoric about our federal deficit."
Democrats and Republicans are headed to the bargaining table to address the so-called fiscal cliff that Trumka alludes to -- the point after the New Year when painful automatic cuts hit the federal budget, unless legislators can find other ways to reduce the $16 trillion debt. Negotiations last year indicated that Democrats are open to cutting social programs that liberals have long considered sacrosanct, as well as trimming programs that aid the poor and elderly.
President Barack Obama met with labor leaders, including Trumka, on Tuesday, assuring them he was committed to letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire. But organized labor is just as concerned about social insurance programs. The failed "grand bargain" nearly struck by Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last year reportedly included cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
Trumka told HuffPost last week that the AFL-CIO, a federation of unions representing 11 million workers, will not support any deal including such cuts. "The voters yesterday rejected that notion soundly," he said the morning after the election. "The answer is, if it includes benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, we'll oppose it."
Trumka served as a reliable Obama booster throughout the 2012 campaign, attacking Romney as a "vulture capitalist" while championing the president and other Democrats, including Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), as allies of working-class people.
But the AFL-CIO has said it's building a permanent political structure to hold progressive legislators accountable post-election, while large unions like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union are launching campaigns aimed at preserving Medicare and Social Security. The labor coalition may see its political mettle tested soon when Democratic lawmakers open the door to trimming social insurance programs.
In his speech Thursday, Trumka declares that it's "time to protect" those very programs while raising taxes for the "richest 2 percent."
"What should working people, jobless people and retirees pay to lower those tax rates for the rich? Should we give up the promise of health care and retirement security that Medicare and Medicaid represent? How about Social Security’s promise? Should that be sacrificed so 'fair taxation' can remain unspeakable? Not on your life."