Labor unions, liberal groups fear lame-duck betrayal by Obama

Major labor unions and dozens of liberal groups working to elect President Obama are worried he could “betray” them in the lame-duck session by agreeing to a deal to cut safety-net programs.

While Obama is relying on labor unions and other organizations on the left to turn out Democratic voters in battleground states, some of his allies have lingering concerns about whether he will stand by them if elected. 

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The liberal groups are planning to launch an aggressive campaign immediately after Election Day to pressure Obama and Senate Democrats not to endorse any deal that cuts Medicare and/or Social Security benefits. 

They say Republicans are also being targeted, but acknowledge that Democrats are more likely to respond to the lobbying campaign. 

The coalition has yet to be formally announced, so organizers are reluctant to speak publicly about the effort or disclose the full membership of the coalition. 

It is expected to include the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, Campaign for America’s Future, members of the Strengthen Social Security coalition and dozens of other groups, according to sources familiar with the effort. 

“You can have virtually all of the senior groups, you can have the unions, you can have some of the veteran groups as well coming on board,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), founder of the Senate’s Defend Social Security Caucus, who has been in contact with organizers.  

Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, noted that using a formula known as “chained CPI” to calculate Social Security benefits could cause a cut to veterans’ benefits. 

“So I think you’re going to have a whole lot of people beginning to stand together and say, ‘Sorry, at a time when the wealthiest are doing phenomenally well and so many people are hurting terribly because of this recession, you’re not going to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick, the poor, the disabled veterans,’” he said. 

The AFL-CIO has planned a series of coordinated events around the country on Nov. 8, two days after Election Day, to pressure lawmakers not to sign onto any deficit-reduction deal that cuts Medicare and Social Security benefits by raising the Medicare eligibility age or changing the formula used for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments. 

“There’s going to be a major effort by lots of groups to make sure the people we vote for don’t sell us down the river,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. 

“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,” he said. 

Hickey and other activists say they are simply asking Democrats to stick to their promises to defend Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. 

“We don’t want him putting on the table what he proposed to Boehner during the negotiations,” Hickey said, in reference to Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). 

During talks with Boehner in the summer of 2011, White House negotiators agreed to cut at least $250 billion from Medicare over the next 10 years and an additional $800 billion in the following decade, and to recalculate the formula for adjusting Social Security benefits, according to The New York Times. In addition, White House officials reportedly agreed to $360 billion in Medicaid cuts over the next 20 years. The bipartisan deal subsequently fell apart. 

“Shifting the cost of these programs onto seniors is not what people are voting for. Every poll bears that out,” said a labor official. 

After Election Day, the liberal-leaning Institute for America’s Future will release a letter signed by 350 economists warning that austerity measures could derail the economic recovery. 

Obama, if reelected, might offer similar concessions to strike a deal with Republicans to halt both the expiration of the Bush-era tax rates for middle-class families and $110 billion in automatic spending cuts, and to raise the debt ceiling. Obama indicated during his final debate with Mitt Romney on Monday that he would not allow the automatic cuts to take place. 

“The sequester is not something that I proposed, it’s something Congress has proposed. It will not happen,” he declared. 

Labor officials and liberal activists say Obama is far preferable to Romney, who has endorsed the House Republican budget, which would substantially reduce future Medicare payments. Still, Obama is viewed cautiously by important constituencies that make up the Democratic base. 

“In the choice between Romney and Obama, [Obama’s] much more favorable,” said Nancy Altman, a co-chairwoman of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition. “Having said that, I think the president has shown more concern about the deficit than we think is warranted, and less concern for how crucial these programs are.”

Republicans say the post-election campaign by the left will make it even more difficult to reach a grand bargain to reduce the deficit in the lame-duck session. 

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group, predicted Obama would not take on his base after the election. 

“He never has and he never will,” said Norquist. “For the first two years of his presidency he could have reformed entitlements, and he didn’t.”