CHICAGO - The two top Illinois labor leaders were joined here today by lawmakers, consumer and senior advocates, and policy experts to demand closing tax loopholes for Wall Street and the richest two percent of Americans instead of cutting Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits in the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations.
This was the third time since the November elections that labor unions and their allies here have joined their counterparts across the country emphasizing that the real deficit facing the nation is a jobs deficit, not a budget deficit.
"House Republicans should stop holding the economy hostage to push a radical agenda that decimates our most vital family protection programs," said Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. "Voters rejected those ideas in the last election. Drastic cuts that will weaken our economy are not the path to recovery. Only by focusing on jobs and economic development will we achieve a full recovery and start rebuilding the middle class."
Today's "day of action" came one month into the second year in a row that Republicans have threatened everything up to and including making the U.S. government default on its obligations in order to make drastic cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare while protecting corporations and the richest two percent.
"We need to address the real causes of our long-term budget imbalance - wasteful cuts for the wealthy, tax loopholes for corporations and rising costs throughout our health care system - and not use the national debt as a pretext to pursue unrelated agendas," said Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.
Congress has passed a temporary deal to extend for three months, until mid-May, the federal government's borrowing authority. Unions and their allies are stepping up their actions during this period to build support for what they believe is a viable long-term solution to the nation's economic ills.
"All of us who believe in restoring the middle class and helping all Americans climb out of poverty need to make sure that the decisions that are made are the right ones," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. "We need to create good jobs, protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and make investments in education, infrastructure and research that strengthen the middle class. We need to raise more revenues from those who can afford to pay, including the wealthy and rich corporations shipping jobs overseas. And we need to stand strong against Republicans who are openly threatening to hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage."
Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., said that, as a businessman, he knows that it is customers, "more than anything else," that create jobs. For the economy to recover, he said, the focus has to be on making sure the income of the middle class goes up, not down.
Workers and seniors, in particular, would pay heavily if any or all of the "big three" are cut. In Illinois alone, government figures show, 2.033, 345 people receive monthly Social Security checks, 1,789,800 get their health care coverage from Medicare and 2,698,787 get their health care coverage from Medicaid, including 1,469,950 children. The three programs combined, the Chicago Federation of Labor says, pump almost $60 billion a year into the state's economy.
"We are proud to stand with our allies on this national day of action to call for fair taxes on corporations, not cuts in vital middle class programs," said William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois. "It is wrong to reduce the deficit on the backs of the middle class by cutting vital programs."
"Once again, Republicans are ignoring the real problems facing our economy and demanding cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. But retirees and working families need more economic security, not less," said Katie Jordan, treasurer of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans. "Seniors greatly depend on their monthly Social Security check to pay for groceries, housing, gas and basic needs. And Medicare helps seniors afford to see their doctor and fill their prescriptions. Many seniors simply cannot go without these basic and moderate benefits."
Damon Silver, the policy director for the AFL-CIO, said, "The real issue as we approach yet another round of hostage taking is not the deficit but the issue of jobs and growth. We are having a national conversation that is upside down."
Silver said, however, that as long as the "accepted idea on how to cut the deficit is to do it not by creating millions of jobs but by balancing cuts and tax hikes it is important to note that there have already been 1.7 trillion in spending cuts but only 600 billion in tax hikes on the wealthy. To get to balance we need to raise 1.2 trillion in additional revenue."
Damon explained that by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations, by taxing capital gains as regular income, by taxing profits made off shore at the same rate as those made at home, by adding a tiny Wall Street transactions tax and by adding a public health care option, $2 trillion would be raised, "more than enough to get to balance," he said.
Photo: Chicago Federation of Labor