WASHINGTON (PAI) - AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka is strongly reiterating the position that creation of more jobs will increase revenues and thus solve the nation's deficit and debt crisis.
In a lengthy telephone press conference on Nov. 16, the federation chief also strongly rejected plans put forward by the co-chairs of President Obama's deficit-cutting commission.
Co-chairs Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson want to stanch the flow of federal red ink by raising the retirement age, cutting home mortgage interest deductions, taxing health care, freezing federal worker pay for three years and a wide range of other measures - but without tax increases.
The 18-member panel, including former SEIU President Andrew Stern, is supposed to send Obama a deficit-cutting package by Dec. 1, but needs 14 votes to do so. If it votes for a plan and Obama approves it or amends it, the lame-duck session of Congress will vote on the package. That means battling the Bowles-Simpson plan is a key item on labor's legislative agenda for the closing days of the 111th Congress.
"Solving the deficit crisis doesn't start with the report by the deficit commission," said Trumka. He called the co-chairs' blueprint "a millstone," around the middle class.
Trumka admitted the deficit must eventually be dealt with, but said that should occur only when unemployment declines to 4%-5%. "We have a mid-term or long-term deficit crisis. We have a short-term jobs crisis" with joblessness at 9.6%, he declared.
To help the jobless, Trumka and AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel said the labor federation would push for four key measures during the lame-duck session: Extending unemployment benefits - particularly for the long-term jobless, passage of the Dream Act to help high-school-graduate immigrants become citizens if they serve in the military or attend college, extending tax credits only for the middle class - not the wealthy, and legislation against Chinese currency manipulation.
And in answer to a reporter's question Trumka added the Employee Free Choice Act to the legislative list, saying it too would create jobs. That measure, to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining, was long atop labor's legislative agenda. A presumed Senate GOP filibuster killed it.
Of the other measures, only the jobless benefits bill is likely to get consideration in the lame-duck session - and another GOP filibuster may stall or kill it. Without it, Trumka said, 800,000 of the 14 million unemployed would lose benefits by the end of November and 2 million would lose them by the end of this year.
Down the road, he added, other job creation measures should include infrastructure improvements, aid to state and local governments, renewal of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Clean Water Act and "green energy" legislation. All those measures were either marooned or sharply cut before the 111th Congress took its election recess.
Trumka did not directly say what the fed's position would be if the Obama White House agreed to a possible compromise on the tax cut extension: A 1-year extension for everyone, including the wealthy, and a permanent extension for the middle class.
He called the tax cuts for the rich "TARP 2," referring to the successful - but extremely unpopular - Troubled Assets Relief Program that aided financial institutions, plus GM and Chrysler in the depths of the recession.
"It's absolutely insane in these tough times that some people want to continue the George W. Bush giveaways to millionaires," he said. Such tax cuts for the rich, he added, "don't create jobs."
Pushed about what the fed would do if Dec. 31 rolls around with no action and the middle-class tax cuts expire, too, Trumka replied: "I'm always willing to fight for good policy - and to take the consequences of fighting for good policy."
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