Business & Lobbying

Unions press Dems to stand firm on Social Security, Medicare

Labor unions are revving up their political machine in response to entitlement benefit cuts under consideration in plans to lift the debt ceiling.

A number of major unions sent emails Friday to hundreds of thousands of their members, urging them to contact lawmakers to oppose slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

The effort came amid new signs that the White House might strike a deal with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and reduce deficits. Talks later broke down Friday evening, and it now seems a bigger package of spending cuts and tax increases is off the negotiating table.

{mosads}Union leaders have voiced opposition to both the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Six” proposal and a deal President Obama and Boehner were reportedly developing that would reduce government spending by $3 trillion, but put off tax reform for later. The latter has apparently fallen apart as congressional leaders are set to meet at the White House again Saturday for debt ceiling negotiations.

“These plans are unacceptable. They will make inequality in America worse — and turn us into more of a Third World has-been,” reads an AFL-CIO e-mail sent to activists Friday. “Tell your senators and the White House: No deal that cuts our safety net and kills our jobs while making the rich richer.”

Labor’s opposition to entitlement cuts will make it tougher to win Democratic votes for a debt ceiling deal if the cuts are included in a package sent to lawmakers next week.

“We are extremely concerned where this is going,” Chuck Loveless, legislative director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), told The Hill.

AFSCME has targeted 150,000 of their members with online ads that urge them to call their lawmakers and reject entitlement cuts. The public worker union has joined with its state affiliates to ask senators in North Carolina, Colorado, California, Virginia, Arkansas and Missouri to reject Medicaid cuts.

Those efforts follow advertising placed in Capitol Hill newspapers on Friday, including in The Hill, by the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the National Education Association (NEA) and the United Food and Commercial Workers saying the Gang of Six proposal “is no deal for working families.”

On Thursday, the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU and NEA also sent a letter to lawmakers in the House and the Senate opposing cuts to entitlement benefits.

SEIU also sent an email out Friday to 400,000 of its members, asking that they call their lawmakers and urge opposition to any entitlement cuts.

“The New York Times reported on a debt ceiling deal that would make deep cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits without asking for an ounce of sacrifice from corporations and millionaires,” reads the e-mail. “The bill would add millions to the unemployment rolls and deny medical care to the most vulnerable among us — including many of the people SEIU members care for on a daily basis.”

Loveless warned cutting entitlement benefits would hurt lawmakers who need union support next year.

Such a debt deal “would be a huge mistake” for Democrats on policy and political grounds since it could cost them the senior vote moving into the next election, he also said. 

While unions are angry with the White House, SEIU’s leader put more blame on Republicans.

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, in a brief interview, faulted GOP opposition to raising taxes, saying Republicans have been unwilling to work towards a balanced approach in bringing down the national debt.

“Who is staking that position? The Republican leadership staked out that position months ago when they said no new revenues,” Henry said. “We have to keep shining a light on that because that is the central problem here.”

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