No to Obama’s Push to Change COLA and Cut Safety Net Benefits!

The March 29, 2013 Wall Street Journal ran an article titled, “White House Weighing Entitlement Limits.” The article begins by stating: “The White House is strongly considering including limits on entitlement benefits in its 2014 budget — a proposal it first offered Republicans in December. The move would be aimed in part at keeping alive bipartisan talks on a major budget deal.

“Such a proposal could include steps that make many Democrats queasy, such as reductions in future Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security payments ….”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has already stated that she is open to changing the Social Security COLA (chained CPI).

CPI stands for consumer price index, a formula that looks at how the prices of stuff we need (food, for example) change over time. It’s used to make cost-of-living adjustments to programs such as Social Security, veterans benefits and food stamps.

According to United Press International, “The latest mantra in budget rhetoric — chained CPI — has become a rallying cry for seniors and organizations like AARP, which see the change in calculating inflation for entitlement and other programs floated by President Obama as having a disproportionate impact on the elderly.”

But it’s not just the elderly. The change to the chained CPI would also cut benefits to veterans, low-income people with disabilities, and many others who rely on government programs.

The bottom line is this: the cost-of-living adjustments would be lower with the proposed new chained CPI than with the old chained CPI.

It has been estimated that the change would reduce the debt and deficit by $230 billion over 10 years. But at the price of reducing benefits for tens of millions of people!

The concessions that President Obama is willing to make in cutting “entitlements” are just for openers in negotiations with Republicans in order to arrive at a “Grand Bargain.” Other ideas that are being bruited about include increasing premiums for Medicare, increasing deductions, and increasing co-pays. In short, more out-of-pocket expenses for beneficiaries.

We are still in the early phases of an historic showdown which will decide this question: Who will bear the brunt of the economic crisis shaking this country with mounting federal deficits and debts, and with 25 million still unemployed or underemployed? Will it be the banks and big corporations through such measures as closing corporate tax loopholes, scrapping the cap on Social Security (which today allows the big money people to be exempt from paying any payroll tax after their first $113,700 rolls in each year), increasing the capital gains tax, a tax on financial transactions, and capping the amount of deductions they can claim?

[Note: Last year, Citizens for Tax Justice found that 30 major corporations had made billions of dollars in profits—while paying no federal income tax between 2008 and 2010. The CTJ updated that report to reflect the 2011 tax bill of those 30 companies, and 26 of them have still managed to pay absolutely nothing over that four year period.]

Or will it be the working class with cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs hit hard by the sequestration; the 500,000 fewer workers employed by federal, state and local governments since 2007; the cuts in the amount and duration of unemployment compensation; the scaling back and even elimination of pension programs; the privatization of public schools; or the restrictions on the legal right of unions to strike, organize the unorganized, and otherwise defend the interest of workers and community allies in the face of all the attacks?

The Way Out

To curb, stop, and reverse the severe assaults directed against the overwhelming majority by the forces of reaction will, in our opinion, require three facets of a fightback campaign: first, building an independent labor movement that affirms labor’s fightback demands; second, mobilizing the rank-and-file and taking to the streets in large numbers in support of those demands; and third, forging unity of the labor movement and our allies.

As to the first, for much too long labor has tied its fortunes to the Democratic Party with disastrous results. It was under Democratic Party administrations that we got Taft-Hartley; NAFTA; the “free trade” agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama; unjust wars and occupations; the gutting of welfare rights; the sequestration; and the continuing push to undermine and underfund safety net programs. The argument that we would even be worse off under the Republicans obscures the fact that underneath the rhetoric and name calling, the two major political parties have collaborated every step along the way in holding down labor and promoting the interests of big business. For example, in neither Democratic nor Republican administrations did we get labor law reform, the Employee Free Choice Act (card check), or bailing out the people instead of the banks and investment houses during the recession.

As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka emphasized in 2010, “It’s not time to leave it to any political party to take care of us once we put them in office. It’s time to organize and mobilize as never before to make every elected or aspiring leader PROVE he or she will create the jobs we need in an economy we need with the health care we need. … I know we are the people who can mobilize a massive army to force elected leaders to deliver.”

We could not agree more. And this only underscores the second point: the need to mobilize the rank-and-file and take to the streets. It seems that every time some critical issue comes up that affects labor, the call goes out to lobby members of Congress, write them, call them, send them petitions, etc. All of these have their place. And to be sure, there is also a call to organize local rallies, which are needed, but by themselves have proven insufficient to win the changes we need or defeat the measures we oppose. What we need now are national actions, such as a March on Washington and the West Coast, organized in concert with our community allies and reaching out to recipients of earned benefits, especially Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Finally, it is high time for the organized labor movement to come together in united actions if we are to meet the daunting challenges confronting us today. Think what it would mean if a national demonstration were co-sponsored by the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, the National Education Association, and allies in the civil rights and other social movements in support of such demands as a full employment economy, no cuts to safety net programs, rescind the sequestration, defend workers’ rights, and redirect war spending to meet human needs.

The Need to Meet and Strategize

Nothing is more important at this time than for concerned trade unionists to gather together to discuss and debate a plan of action for the way forward. For this reason, the South Carolina AFL-CIO and the Wisconsin South Central Federation of Labor call for a national Labor Fightback Conference to be held May 10–12, 2013 at Rutgers University could not be more timely. Visit the conference website at http://laborfightback.org/conference/ for details.

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About elnwebmaster

This is the discussion blog of the Labor Fightback Network, an auxiliary to the laborfightback.org website. It is designed to facilitate discussion among labor activists concerning the critical issues facing working people in the current economic crisis. Readers’ comments are welcome, but flaming is not. Any comments which are racist, sexist/homophobic, or disrespectful on a personal level will not get past moderation.
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