WASHINGTON — With fresh Capitol Hill budget battles on the horizon, the head of the leading labor federation planned to issue a blistering warning to unions’ Democratic allies on Monday, saying the AFL-CIO would “never stop working” to end the political careers of Democrats who cut entitlement programs.
“No politician … I don’t care the political party … will get away with cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits. Don’t try it,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, according to prepared remarks for a speech in Las Vegas, Nev.
According to the draft, which was supplied to HuffPost by the AFL-CIO, Trumka stressed his point for Democrats who may be wobbly on the issue.
“This warning goes double for Democrats,” he said. “We will never forget. We will never forgive. And we will never stop working to end your career.”
The AFL-CIO has long opposed any cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, and the labor federation has suggested in the past that it would consider pulling support from Democrats who help make those cuts happen. But Trumka’s remarks on the issue Monday amounted to a far more aggressive threat: That the AFL-CIO would actively use its war chest to unseat Democrats on the other side of the issue.
An AFL-CIO spokesperson clarified for HuffPost that the federation still considers so-called “chained CPI” to be part of the off-limits cuts to which Trumka was referring. A chained CPI inflation index would alter the way cost-of-living adjustments are made for Social Security recipients, slowing increases and reducing the benefits for seniors and the disabled. Many Democrats have shown an openness toward chained CPI, and the measure was included in President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget, where it was paired with extra money for the elderly and poor.
Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s policy director, told The Washington Post last week that chained CPI was “the vampire of American politics,” saying that it “keeps being shot through the heart and it keeps reviving.” Silvers told the Post that the AFL-CIO also opposes a form of Medicare means testing in the president’s budget.
It isn’t clear yet how entitlement cuts will figure in the post-shutdown budget talks, but it’s possible they’ll become part a new “grand bargain” discussion on Capitol Hill.
Saying he had a “sinking feeling that too many politicians are ready to put the hurt on regular working people,” Trumka argued that lawmakers should be increasing Social Security payments rather than cutting them. He said we live in a time of “self-imposed scarcity” that’s driven by “fear” rather than logic.
“Millions of Americans are afraid Social Security might not be there for them,” Trumka said. “We cannot listen to that fear and believe Social Security is the problem. It isn’t. The fear is. Instead of cutting Social Security, which will make the fear come true, we should, as a nation, invest in Social Security. Increase benefits.”
Elsewhere in the speech, which was addressed to the annual conference of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, Trumka called the Affordable Care Act a “significant step forward” but said there “real problems that still exist” in the health care reform law. Recently, unions had tried to pressure the White House to extend the eligibility for subsidies to unions’ multi-employer health plans, known as Taft-Hartley plans, but the administration ultimately rebuffed them. Several unions are concerned their plans may become uncompetitive under Obamacare.
“I give you my word that we’re fighting for a level playing field for the health funds of working people,” Trumka said. “This is one of my top priorities, and we’re going to keep talking with the federal government agencies and the White House and Congress regarding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act until we get what we want and need.”