The GOP budget rolled out by Paul Ryan this week was described yesterday by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as "a zombie he won't let die."
"Instead of calling for sensible repeal of the sequester, Ryan doubles down on harmful cuts to education, health care, and other programs that build a strong middle class," the leader of the nation's largest labor federation declared. He noted that all of the elements of the new GOP budget were rejected by the voters less than half a year ago.
Unlike Democratic-backed proposals by the president that would close tax loopholes for the super wealthy the GOP plan gives even more tax breaks to the rich, higher subsidies to companies that ship jobs overseas and bigger tax cuts to corporations.
The GOP budget calls for repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare), replaces Medicare with a voucher system in which seniors receive coupons that cover only a small part of their health care needs and then leaves them on their own to figure out how to pay for the rest, and drastically slashes both Medicaid and a host of public services.
"This budget would cut spending by $5.7 trillion - devastating child nutrition, cancer research, and other key programs in an attempt to shrink government back to the size it was in the 1950's," Trumka said in an official statement issued by the AFL-CIO.
Labor and its allies have been warning for months now that the fragile state of the economic recovery makes any cuts to state and local government programs extremely dangerous. The cuts already made, they say, have prevented the recovery from happening faster.
Trade union and community groups are also unhappy about the apparent willingness of some Democrats to move in the direction of cuts and are intent on keeping the pressure on even the president to remember the issues on which he campaigned for re-election.
"We reject these so-called balanced approaches that increase inequality and shift even more of the burden to those who can least afford it," said Trumka. "We call for an immediate repeal of the sequester cuts and urge lawmakers to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid from any benefit cuts."
President Obama went to Capitol Hill yesterday and told Senate Democrats in a private meeting that, as part of a 'grand bargain,' he was open to replacing Social Security cost of living adjustments with a "chained CPI."
That approach, rather than simply raising benefits to keep up with the Consumer Price Index, would allow for increases smaller than the increase in the CPI. The theory is that as prices rise seniors adjust their spending habits downward and don't really need the full increases. Senior advocates have noted that the "chained CPI" would result, over the years, in thousands of dollars in cuts for people on Social Security.
After leaving the meeting with Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind., Vt., told the Wall Street Journal and UPI that he was opposed to the president's approach because it amounts to a cut in Social Security.
"I'm going to fight this as hard as I can to make the point that Social Security has not contributed one nickel to the deficit," Sanders said this morning on National Public Radio.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, also said he was opposed to negotiating with Republicans on this point.
"There are ways to address these problems without cutting benefits," Sanders said. "Some of us suggested what he (Obama) proposed in 2008, which is to lift the cap on what income is taxable for Social Security."
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