‘Lame duck’ with a dangerous bite
By Will Parry
Immediately after Election Day, a mighty alliance of labor and community organizations will launch a campaign to block any congressional deficit-reduction deal that damages Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.
The allied groups are deeply concerned over the willingness of leading Democrats, including President Obama, to enter budget talks prepared to yield ground on the three vital programs to get a bipartisan deal.
The lame duck session, between Election Day and the installation of the new Congress, looms as the arena for the battle between the deficit hawks and the defenders of critical social programs.
Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action will be vigorously supportive of the campaign.
“People, groups, organizations and networks are working very hard to get Obama and the Democrats elected, and yet we are worried that it is possible that we could be betrayed almost immediately,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future.
During talks with House Speaker John Boehner in 2011, White House negotiators agreed to cut at least $250 billion from Medicare over the next ten years, and an additional $800 billion over the following decade, and to water down the formula for determining Social Security cost-of-living adjustments.
“We don’t want Obama putting on the table what he proposed to Boehner,” Hickey said.
The talks within the so-called bipartisan “Super Committee” also raised red flags.
Before the talks collapsed, Democratic senators on the committee proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, as well as Medicaid, while Republicans on the committee proposed even bigger cuts.
On the initiative of Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent, Vermont), 29 senators, including Washington State’s Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, have signed a “Dear Colleague” letter to other senators, urging them to hold the line on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Sanders, who chairs the Senate Social Security Caucus, has been the foremost member of that chamber in vigorous defense of the three basic programs.
The AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the Strengthen Social Securities coalition and dozens of other groups are expected to be active in the campaign to prevent the deficit from becoming the pretext for program cuts.
AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka declared that labor will “oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare benefits, or to the federal contribution to Medicaid.
“We call on politicians of both parties to stand firm and demand that Wall Street and the wealthy finally pay their fair share – given the extraordinary increases in corporate profits and income inequality in recent years,” Trumka said.
The AFL-CIO will stage a series of coordinated events around the country on November 8, to pressure lawmakers not to sign onto any deficit-reduction deal that raises the Medicare eligibility age or changes the Social Security cost-of-living formula.
In a related development, the Institute for America’s Future, after Election Day, will release a letter signed by 350 economists warning that austerity measures could derail the economic recovery.