Obama budget draws praise, some complaints, from labor leaders

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President Obama's proposed federal budget for the year is drawing overall positive reactions from union leaders.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a special statement, "It puts us on the right path towards building a solid foundation for our economic future. For the short term we have to extend unemployment benefits and the temporary middle class tax cut to avoid putting recent jobs at risk. To start laying the groundwork for broadly shared prosperity over the long term, we have to start making things in America again, and the President's proposed investments in infrastructure, clean energy, manufacturing, education, and innovation will help us do just that."

The Obama budget calls for a more than $300 billion economic stimulus program involving investments of federal dollars in infrastructure, clean energy, manufacturing, education, and new technology.

The budget also calls for ending of tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas and for sharpening enforcement of trade agreements.

The president's budget will be ignored in the Republican-run House, where Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., intends to again draft his own proposal, which is again expected to push killing of Medicare as we know it.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a phone interview that she was pleased about the president's proposed increases in education funding, his plans to keep Pell grants at present levels and his emphasis on more job training money.

Obama "rejects the cuts-only obsession of many in Congress, and includes several concrete, doable policies that will provide relief to Americans still struggling to get by today, as well as needed investment in our future," she said. "We applaud the president's focus on improving and strengthening the teaching profession, and on keeping educators off the unemployment lines and in the classroom."

Weingarten was clearly unhappy, though, about the lack of increase in federal money for elementary and secondary schools. "With 3 million more children in poverty since the start of our economic crisis, we can't afford to freeze funding for educating poor kids while competitive grant programs that serve some, but not all, receive increases," she stated.

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard praised Obama's proposal for a new Interagency Trade Enforcement Center and more money for that cause. The USW has often spoken out on what it sees as unfair trade practices by countries - most notably China - that subsidize their exports to the U.S. 

However, some sections of the budget have drawn the ire of people in the labor movement and their allies. Among these are a 5 percent cut in the Labor Department's budget and cuts in several worker-help programs, including loans to states to help extend payments to the jobless.

Another example is the proposed elimination of a small Labor Department program designed to help women get into "non-traditional" occupations such as construction.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, was angry about the president's proposal on continuing to freeze hiring for federal workers.

"Federal employees have already contributed $60 billion with pay freezes. It's been $60 billion, plus now $27 billion and I don't see any jobs created," Gage told PAI, the union news service. "The White House is putting money into creating new jobs and then attacking the jobs that we have. Federal employees already sacrificed more than the president is asking from the big banks."

Photo: Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., center, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., at a news conference on Capitol Hill, Feb. 13, to discuss President Obama's fiscal 2013 federal budget. Scott Applewhite/AP

 

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