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WSLC sends message to lame-duck Congress

(Dec. 5) — The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the state’s largest union organization representing the interests of some 400,000 rank-and-file union members, continues to urge Washington’s Congressional delegation to oppose benefits cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that would harm millions in Washington and to end Bush-era tax cuts to the richest 2% of Americans.

Since the election, Washington’s labor movement has been mobilizing around the lame-duck session of Congress and the so-called “fiscal cliff” debt-reduction negotiations. On Nov. 8, working families across the country — including in Seattle and Spokane — held nearly 100 events outside Congressional offices, health clinics, Social Security offices, construction sites and other community locations. More events are planned today (Dec. 5) and on Monday, Dec. 10 as part of International Human Rights Day. In addition, thousands of calls have been generated to members of Congress urging against benefit cuts and against extension of Bush-era tax cuts to the top 2%.

WSLC President Jeff Johnson, who was part of a delegation of state labor leaders who traveled to Washington D.C. on Nov. 27-28 to meet with members of Congress on this issue, just sent the following letter to the Democratic members of Washington’s Congressional delegation summarizing what’s at stake and the reasoning behind labor’s position.

Dear Congressman:

I want to thank you for meeting with our labor delegation last week as well as for the robust discussion on the “fiscal cliff.”

Our request is both simple and straight forward. We ask you to allow the Bush tax cuts for the 2% to expire in December and to commit to no benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Allowing the tax cuts for the rich to expire will generate about $1 trillion dollars in savings, which can then be used to cancel the across-the-board cuts called for in the 2011 sequestration agreement.

We believe that the American public voted last month to reject the low road model of growth which posits debt and deficits as the cause of our problems and austerity as the solution. The American people and our members want to see a commitment to job creation and restoring a sense of fairness to our economy. It is time to stop shifting the burden and the costs of fixing our economy to the poor, middle and working class.

While it would be great if an agreement could be reached during the lame-duck session to also extend the tax cuts for the middle class, for a limited period of time, this should not be done at either the expense of benefit cuts in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid or through so-called “tax reform” by capping deductions rather than allowing tax rates for the wealthiest among us to return to where they were during the Clinton Administration. There is plenty of time to discuss real tax reform in the next Congress, if the Republicans really want to have a comprehensive discussion.

Should no agreement on extending the tax cuts for the middle class be reached by December 31, the world will not end on January 1. Payroll taxes will go up, but they will as assuredly go down once an agreement is reached sometime in January. In the meantime, Republicans will have to explain why they held these tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for the rich.

More importantly, it will allow the new Congress to have honest discussion about the real crises that we face — health care costs and jobs. While everyone but the Republicans and, perhaps, Mr. Simpson and Mr. Bowles, knows that Social Security has not added a penny to the deficit/debt, should not be part of this discussion, and Social Security’s own internal financing issues can be dealt with by “scrapping the cap,” we do face a crisis of health care costs. We do not face a Medicare benefits crisis or a Medicaid benefits crisis.

We need to bring down skyrocketing health care costs. But rather than do this by cutting benefits — limiting care, changes in eligibility age, increased co-pays, deductibles, premiums, etc. — how about we allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies? The Congressional Budget Office scores this at $500 billion in cost savings over the next decade. Similarly huge cost savings are to be had by creating a real public health care option and by ending fee-for-services payments and replacing them with a system of paying for health care results.

We need for the new Congress to seriously address our jobs crisis. In addition to revenue reform, we can grow revenue by growing our economy and by rebuilding our physical and social infrastructure. It is time to pass the American Jobs Act.

All of these issues are better resolved in our next Congress, once the tax cuts for the 2% have expired.

The debt and deficits that we face today are the result of ten years of misguided tax policy, two expensive unfunded wars, and the worst financial crisis we have faced in our lifetimes. Austerity is a low road path that will only further harm our economy and exacerbate inequalities, whereas restoring a sense of tax fairness to the system, working on health care cost savings, and creating jobs will get our economy moving again and dramatically lower our debt.

Thank you for your consideration of these thoughts and let’s continue talking over the course of the next few weeks.


Jeff Johnson
Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO

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