WASHINGTON (PAI) - President Obama's proposed budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 would increase spending for innovative manufacturing and infrastructure improvements and raise the federal minimum wage, among other initiatives.
His proposals drew accolades from union leaders, who, however, said there were still some key omissions. The House's ruling Republicans panned Obama's budget blueprint.
Typical were the comments from AFGE President J. David Cox, on one hand, and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., on the other.
Obama's budget "puts shared prosperity ahead of crippling austerity by raising the minimum wage, investing in public infrastructure projects, closing tax loopholes that benefit millionaires and billionaires, and investing in federal programs that will create jobs and expand opportunity," Cox said.
"After years of mean-spirited and harmful cuts to the federal workforce, AFGE is pleased that this budget calls for new investments in training, development and recruitment of the federal workforce," he added.
Cox, a retired Veterans Affairs Department hospital worker, particularly cited a $56 billion Obama proposal to "help restore years of frozen and reduced budgets for discretionary programs in such critical areas as education, scientific research, public health, veterans' hospitals, job training programs and national security.
"Despite these achievements, the budget still stops short of repairing all of the damage that has been done to the federal workforce under the guise of austerity," Cox said.
Obama's proposed one percent pay hike for federal workers "is woefully inadequate after three consecutive years of frozen wages, higher retirement contributions and the loss of pay due to sequestration-related furloughs last year." All that resulted in federal workers contributing $138 billion to deficit reduction, far more than any other group, he added. Cox called again for a four percent federal pay increase and repeal of cuts to federal retirement benefits - including repudiation of a future cut Obama proposes.
Kline's characterization of Obama's "failed agenda" was typical of the House GOP reaction. "In critical areas such as early learning, job training, and higher education the president wants to make an existing maze of programs even more costly and confusing. Spending more money on broken programs will not provide the support our most vulnerable children, workers, and families desperately need," he claimed.
Obama's proposed $3.91 trillion spending plan for fiscal 2015 is more important because it shows what the administration's priorities are - including more spending on education, factories and infrastructure and curbing the rise in defense spending that has lasted for the last three decades.
Despite an improving economy that is recovering from the 2008 Great Recession - at least according to official numbers - the president isn't satisfied. "We should not ask middle class senior citizens and working families to pay down the rest of our deficit while the wealthiest are asked for nothing more. That does not grow our middle class," he declared.
"Our economy is adding jobs, but too many people still cannot find full-time employment. Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs, but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.
"It is our generation's task to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth: A rising, thriving middle class. It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country, the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, or whom you love.
"It is our unfinished task to make sure this government works on behalf of the many, not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child. A growing economy that creates good, middle class jobs: This must be the North Star that guides our efforts," he stated. Budget details of interest to workers include:
- A four-year $301 billion plan to improve the nation's infrastructure. That includes $50 billion for "up-front infrastructure investments, via a "Fix-it-First" to immediately invest in "our most urgent repairs," such as 70,000 structurally deficient bridges nationwide. Obama also endorses, and provides seed money for, a national infrastructure bank that would leverage public funds to attract private money for key projects of nationwide importance.
- Combining Trade Adjustment Assistance - the program that funds pay and health care benefits for workers who lose their jobs due to unfair trade - with another program to help dislocated workers. The combined New Career Pathways program would aid approximately a million workers yearly, DOL says.
- An increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 hourly by 2016, and then indexing it to inflation.
- Extension of emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. "If not extended, 3.6 million additional people are estimated to lose access to extended UI benefits by the end of 2014, remaining unemployed and looking for work," Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said. Senate GOP filibusters have blocked the jobless benefits extension ever since the benefits ran out on Dec. 28.
- $565 million for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and $377 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, virtually the same amounts they got in the present fiscal year, before the now-dead sequester - the GOP-mandated federal funding cuts - hit their budgets. Perez also wants $14 million to continue DOL's campaign against company misclassification of workers as "independent contractors." Firms that do so, in trucking, package delivery, construction and other industries, rob workers of their rights, including the right to organize. Those firms can also avoid paying Social Security and Medicate taxes and workers comp and unemployment insurance.
- Increases in funding and employment at the IRS (up $1.1 billion) and the Border Patrol, increased to 25,775 workers. Treasury Employees President Colleen Kelley lauded those hikes. The IRS increase will help taxpayer services and cut the federal deficit, while, the border patrol "needs a significant increase in staffing to fulfill its all-important mission of protecting our borders...Investment in CBP officers is an investment in the economy."