WASHINGTON - With the congressional "super committee's" deficit-cutting efforts in ruins, the first two union leaders to comment on the failure, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and AFT President Randi Weingarten, blamed the flop on GOP refusal to abandon tax cuts for the rich.
But the failure might not be all bad, pro-worker Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., pointed out. Democrats on the panel had proposed cutting increases in Medicare and Social Security as part of a "grand bargain" to reduce red ink - and that was something voters reject, Sanders said. Now, lawmakers have the chance to cut deficits without cutting those programs, and by raising taxes on the rich, as voters favor, he said.
The comments from Trumka, Weingarten, and Sanders came after the two co-chairs of the committee, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, announced on Nov. 21 that the evenly divided 12-member panel could not create a plan to reduce federal deficits by at least $1.2 trillion in the decade starting in 2013.
Negotiations failed on GOP refusal to have the rich pay their fair share, the union leaders said. The GOP had offered to close $300 billion in loopholes, in return for enshrining the Bush tax cuts for the rich in law. Bush's tax cuts end at the close of 2012.
"Republicans have once again shown that if they can't get their way, they take their marbles and go home," Trumka said. "'Getting their way' means making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, letting the top one percent off the hook on deficit reduction. It means driving the economy further into a ditch - letting Wall Street run amok, refusing to take responsibility for their actions, and blaming everyone else. This, in a nutshell, is how our economy got broken in the first place.
"If we want to fix our economy and put America back to work, we have to start focusing on the 99 percent. Now is the time to start investing in infrastructure that puts people to work right away while laying the groundwork for broadly shared prosperity in the long term. And we have to defend and strengthen the Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment, and Medicare benefits the 99 percent depend[s] on. The last thing we should do is make the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent," he concluded.
"We're disappointed about the apparent failure to reach a deficit deal, but let's be clear about what really happened here: There is not equal blame to go around," said Weingarten. "While Democrats tried to find common ground for the common good, Republicans insisted on protecting the one percent from additional taxes. American Federation of Teachers members know what it means to negotiate in good faith, and it is clear that Republicans refused to compromise."
But Weingarten was not as sanguine as Sanders about what would happen next. Absent a deficit-cutting deal, $1.2 trillion in cuts, spread out over the years and evenly split between domestic spending - minus Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - and defense will start in Jan. 2013. Weingarten said such trims would produce a 7.8 percent cut in federal aid to education, harming women, teachers, and kids.