WASHINGTON -- The head of the most powerful union federation in the country is holding off judgment on President Obama's most recent debt reduction proposal, despite its inclusion of cuts to Social Security beneficiaries.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka called the chained-CPI proposal offered by Obama as part of his recent effort to resolve the so-called fiscal cliff standoff, "bad policy" that he and his group were strongly against. But in an interview with The Huffington Post on Thursday morning, Trumka stopped notably short of urging Democrats to walk away from the table because of it.
"I want to see more of the details. But we oppose the cuts," Trumka said. "We'll oppose the cuts. We will be talking to them about a number of things. Obviously I want to look at the whole deal before we make any decision."
Trumka, like others in the labor community, has been placed in a political pickle following the president's most recent offer. Having spent months demanding that Democrats remove Social Security from the negotiating table, he's now confronted with the choice of supporting a deal with those very cuts, or demanding their removal and risking no deal at all. The latter would mean no chained-CPI, which would result in less generous cost of living adjustments for those on Social Security. But it also would mean the loss of two other labor priorities: unemployment benefits and infrastructure money, both of which are also in Obama's latest proposal.
"A good deal is better than no deal," said Trumka, when asked about the decision the union faces. "But a bad deal is worse than no deal."
The Obama White House insists that it has included protections in its chained-CPI proposal to ensure that the most vulnerable in society aren't adversely impacted. However, Trumka said that no one from the administration had explained those protections to him yet.
"Start off with the notion that a cut is a cut," he said. "So while you may be protecting some segments from the cut, there is still a lot of people who are going to get cut to pay for the difference between people making between $250,000 and $400,000. And we oppose those cuts because workers weren't part of the problem. We didn't cause the problem. But now we are supposed to always be part of the solution. ... We think that's a bad deal."
Still, Trumka wasn't ready to blow up the whole enterprise without seeing the details first. His restraint is a minor, albeit momentary, victory for the president on the chained-CPI front, but hardly the only victory in the past few days. The White House has already received coverage from Democratic congressional leadership over the controversial proposal.
On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had previously said she could get chained-CPI Democratic support in her chamber, took the defense of the measure further, calling it a strengthening device for the entitlement program.
UPDATE 5:50 p.m. -- In a separate interview with the Washington Post, Damon Silvers, the policy director for the AFL-CIO, urged President Obama to rescind his proposal to Boehner now that the speaker has rejected it.
This doesn't contradict anything that Trumka said -- he too was critical of the chained-CPI provision. Rather, it takes things a step further. Whereas Trumka said he would wait to see the final deal before weighing its merits, Silvers is pushing the president to revamp the deal before it becomes final.