One of the top union leaders in the country warned on Monday that the Democratic Party risked suffering electoral losses of historic proportions if they pass watered-down health care legislation and refuse to seriously tackle financial regulatory reform.
In a speech before the National Press Club (and comments beforehand), AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka insisted that Democrats are "inviting a repeat" of the 1994 midterm elections by instituting a tax on high-end insurance plans as part of their final health care compromise, among other things.
"It could well be" a recipe for disaster in 2010, Trumka told a group of reporters. "I just came back from southern California. I was in five or six places out there... it is amazing the number of people that come up to you unsolicited and say, 'I'm really worried about this health care bill.'"
Asked if he thought union and non-union workers will stay at home if health care reform (as outlined by the Senate) is passed into law, Trumka replied: "That could very well happen. A bad bill could have that effect... an [election] where people sit home. It could suppress votes... Look at what happened in '94."
In his speech before a packed crowd, the AFL-CIO president was blunt with his electoral prognosis, branching out his criticism of Democratic-authored reform beyond the realm of health care.
"In 1992, workers voted for Democrats who promised action on jobs, who talked about reining in corporate greed and who promised health care reform," Trumka said, according to a version of his prepared remarks. "Instead, we got NAFTA, an emboldened Wall Street -- and not much more. We swallowed our disappointment and worked to preserve a Democratic majority in 1994 because we knew what the alternative was. But there was no way to persuade enough working Americans to go to the polls when they couldn't tell the difference between the two parties. Politicians who think that working people have it too good -- too much health care, too much Social Security and Medicare, too much power on the job -- are inviting a repeat of 1994."
The specter of massive congressional losses is certainly a topic of deep concern within Democratic circles. And it should be noted that Trumka's sentiments are shared by several Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives -- many of whom campaigned in 2008 on a pledge not to tax high-end insurance plans (which often cover workers who have negotiated away wages in exchange for the coverage).
Likewise, President Obama ran for office on a platform that vilified a tax on so-called Cadillac plans before reversing course once health care negotiations hit a critical stage between the House and Senate. Asked to explain Obama's reversal, Trumka directed questions to the White House. He and more than half a dozen other labor leaders are slated to meet with the president this afternoon to go over such policy disagreements.
"It is a meeting among friends," Trumka described it.