Trumka: White House talk of deficit reduction muddled message on jobs

The leader of the nation’s biggest labor federation says President Obama’s talk about the federal deficit has muddled his message on job creation.

At a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor on Thursday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Obama has not “effectively communicated” his work on reducing unemployment. 

“The problem started whenever he started, in the same sentence, with talking about jobs creation and deficit reduction,” Trumka said. “He confused people a little bit about that, and he gave credence to the notion that the deficit has to be addressed.” 

With the unemployment rate still hovering near 10 percent, creating jobs has become a top priority for lawmakers in Washington. Labor groups have pushed for more government spending, but deficit-averse Democrats have balked at authorizing more funds. Republicans, meanwhile, have seized on the deficit as a banner campaign issue.

The labor movement has long been skeptical of Obama’s debt commission, which is expected to issue recommendations after the midterm elections on how to reduce the growth of the deficit. The panel is likely to recommend big cuts to Social Security and Medicare, programs that are strongly supported by unions.

Trumka said Obama should have originally stressed that the deficit is a long-term problem that needs to take a backseat to pulling the economy out of the recession.

“Look, we don’t have a short-term deficit. We have a long-term deficit. We don’t have a short-term deficit problem. We have a short-term jobs crisis,” Trumka said. “If [Obama] had said it like that originally, it would have been much easier to make the case. He didn’t, and he is now changing that.” 

The labor leader said Obama saved the nation from another economic depression when he came into office, but that more needs to be done to get businesses hiring again. He also said the stimulus package that Congress passed in 2009 was not large enough to be effective in creating jobs.

“Most Americans don’t even know they got a tax cut [from the stimulus],” Trumka said. 

In addition, he said infrastructure spending authorized by the recovery bill was too restricted, since funds mostly flowed to projects that could be completed quickly. 

“That meant the big projects that could go on couldn’t get any stimulus money. It had to be smaller stimulus projects that could be completed in 18 months,” Trumka said.  

The labor leader said the country is in need of a second stimulus package in order to right the struggling economy. 

“You have an economy that needs priming, and every economist out there will tell you that. We would like to see that,” Trumka said.

Trumka noted that the aid to the economy could come in the form of several smaller pieces of legislation. He said Congress could pass the surface transportation reauthorization bill or a clean energy bill or authorize loan guarantees for new power plants before the November elections. 

“All of those can be jobs bills that help with the economy,” Trumka said.