Congress stiffs workers

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the Senate filibuster that defeated legislation providing immediate aid for the 140,000 airline workers who will be laid off as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack 'signals an intention to serve workers last and least at the table of economic recovery.'

The measure, authored by Missouri Democrat Jean Carnahan, went down to defeat Oct. 11 when supporters could muster only 56 of the required 60 votes to break a filibuster. Five Republicans and one independent joined all 50 Democrats in the effort to attach the amendment to a bill providing for airline security.

Under Senate rules a filibuster occurs when only one senator announces that he or she plans a filibuster. Gone are the days of a solitary senator holding forth for hours and sleeping on a cot in the cloakroom.

Sweeney called the action an outrage. 'It is especially shameful that the White House, which lobbied furiously against relief, and 44 Republican senators would undermine majority support and turn our nation's back on aviation workers whose jobs and livelihoods were directly destroyed in the attacks.'

Supporters of the aid legislation reminded colleagues that the airlines had refused to share any of a $15 billion government bailout with laid off workers, backing down only in the face of mass public outrage.

The AFL-CIO has yet to endorse any of the proposals making their way through the legislative mill, saying that none of the proposals meet the short- and long-term needs of working families.

Chris Owens, director of the federation's Public Policy Department, told the World that, although the Democrat's stimulus proposals offer far greater and more immediate help for working families than do those advanced by the White House, the AFL-CIO has launched a Blueprint for Economic Recovery that provides both immediate and long-range help for working families and the nation's struggling economy.

'The Blueprint calls for increased unemployment benefits that cover more unemployed workers for a longer period of time and federal financial assistance to help laid-off workers maintain their health benefits as 'first priorities,'' she said.

Other proposals call for a needed boost in aid struggling state and local governments who are faced with declining revenues that threaten cuts in essential services and restoration of full funding for programs such as food stamps, federal housing assistance, child care subsidies and low-income energy assistance.

In its second stage, the Blueprint for Economic Recovery calls for massive federal spending on infrastructure repair and modernization of AMTRAK as well as increased spending for public health.

Working families suffered two setbacks in the House of Representatives during the week of Oct. 7 when Republicans who control the House of Representatives rammed two of their favorite pieces of legislation through the Ways and Means Committee.

The first came on Oct. 9, when the GOP led by Bill Thomas of California, flexed their muscle and voted 26-13, to clear 'fast track' legislation for debate by the full House. Three days later the committee voted 23-14 on a package that will put the biggest share of $100 billion in tax cuts into corporate treasuries and the pockets of the rich over the next 12 months.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the tax bill 'tax profiteering,' adding: 'In every war there have been those who engage in profiteering. Today, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack on America, some in Congress are using the nation's tragedy to engage in tax profiteering.'

Sweeney said the Thomas tax cuts, packaged as the Economic Security and Recovery Act of 2001, raised politics to a 'new level of hypocrisy' and has no economic justification and does nothing to provide either short- or long-term stimulus to the economy.

'[It] does nothing to create jobs or provide meaningful economic security for working families,' he said. 'Instead, it strips the budget of monies needed to finance enhanced and extended unemployment insurance benefits, assistance to cover health insurance premiums, revenue sharing with state governments to avoid service cutbacks and investment in public infrastructure and schools.'

In an angry editorial, The New York Times called the legislation 'unsound' and said the House leadership had waited until 10:30 p.m. the night before to spring the bill on Democrats, thereby 'reverting to the poisonous old practices of steamrollering legislation through and, this time, exploiting a tragic national emergency in the process.'

Robert McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), blasted the House proposal. 'Rather than focusing on short-term assistance to people and areas that need it the most, the plan gives permanent tax breaks to those who need help the least.'

According to CTJ, 41 percent of the tax breaks approved by the Ways and Means Committee go to the best-off 1 percent of all tax payers whose average tax cut in 2002 would be almost $27,000 each. Three fourths of the cuts go to the top 10 percent of taxpayers, with only 7 percent going to the bottom three-fifths.

CTJ said the cost of providing rebates to the 37 million couples that paid payroll taxes but no income tax in 2000 would cost about $13.7 billion, with each check averaging about $350.