WASHINGTON -- Progressive and labor groups plan to picket outside a hundred Social Security offices around the country on Wednesday, telling lawmakers to keep Social Security out of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations on Capitol Hill.
According to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a federal worker union opposed to Medicare and Social Security cuts, the protests will take place in at least 22 states and will involve left-leaning groups such as Common Cause, the American Federation of Teachers, the Alliance for Retired Americans and the AFL-CIO union federation.
"Cutting Social Security’s budget or making modifications to Medicare and Medicaid should not be part of a grand bargain to reduce the deficit," Witold Skwierczynski, the head of AFGE's Social Security council, said in a statement.
Severe automatic cuts are set to hit the federal budget shortly after the new year, unless lawmakers can hammer out a deal to reduce the deficit and avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Progressive groups and labor unions are concerned the deal will include cuts to "entitlement" programs like Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, which they say are vital to working people and shouldn't be part of the discussions. (The AARP, too, has warned lawmakers not to reform Social Security as part of a fiscal cliff deal.)
Such entitlement reforms were reportedly part of the failed "grand bargain" talks between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last year.
In addition to possible Social Security cuts, unions are also worried that automatic sequestration or a grand bargain deal may lead to pay freezes or furloughs for federal workers. Although federal employees have already withstood a two-year pay freeze, lawmakers such as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) would like to see the freeze extended in a plan to avert the automatic cuts.
According to AFGE, sequestration would require the Social Security Administration to slash its budget by more than 5 percent, leading to a hiring freeze and net loss of more than 3,000 administration employees.
The fiscal cliff talks in general have kept organized labor in post-election campaign mode. Several unions have made a significant advertising buy in the hopes of pressuring centrist Democratic senators into keeping Social Security and Medicare off the chopping block. The AFL-CIO has vowed to oppose any deal including such cuts, and last week, the labor federation's president, Richard Trumka, declared Congressional Republicans "hostage takers" in the talks.
"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," AFGE's Skwierczynski said.