Labor to Congress: Don’t fall for ‘fiscal bluff’

Sometimes a bad deal is worse than no deal. The national AFL-CIO wants Congress to renew a set of tax cuts for working people, but not at the expense of continuing tax cuts for the rich or cutting Social Security or Medicare.

Starting immediately after the November election, the AFL-CIO has been campaigning to stiffen the backbones of the president and Congressional Democrats as the so-called “fiscal cliff” nears. Fiscal cliff was the phrase Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke used to describe the consequences if Congress fails to reach agreement on tax and budget policy by year’s end. Several sets of tax cuts expire then, and so does funding for programs like extended unemployment insurance. And under a law passed in 2011, across-the-board cuts in federal spending are scheduled to take effect  Jan. 1 if Congress doesn’t find ways to reduce the deficit. In short, it’s a manufactured political crisis, and it could use a political solution.

But it must not be used as an excuse to cut benefits that working people have paid for all their lives, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka has argued. Republicans have proposed smaller cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients and raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 as part of a deal.

Organized labor has been lobbying, rallying, and running ads to tell Congress “No tax breaks for the richest 2 percent” and “no Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid cuts.”

In Portland, 250 unionists and community activists held a candlelight vigil Dec. 10 outside of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office in Portland, “to shine a light on the truth about the fiscal cliff.”

“While there are major consequences for not striking a deal, the consequences of a bad deal are even worse,” read an AFL-CIO flier. “It’s not worth bargaining away our financial security, or health security, or our retirement security. It’s not worth a bad deal.”

The Portland vigil called on Sen. Wyden and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader to not “buy into a deal because they think it’s the only option. It’s not the only option.”

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