AFL-CIO: Elected leaders should stand for an economy that works for all - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

AFL-CIO: Elected leaders should stand for an economy that works for all

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Rebekah Friend is a Mesa resident and executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO. Contact her at rfriend@azaflcio.org.

Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:03 am | Updated: 2:08 pm, Wed Nov 28, 2012.

The election is over, but now our country faces another big moment. Behind closed doors, some members of Congress are trying to arrange a “grand bargain”—and some are insisting on extending tax cuts for the richest 2 percent of Americans while cutting Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Who would be impacted by these decisions in Washington?

Working Americans like Kristen from Nashua, New Hampshire, a single mother. Because her son was born very sick, she relied on a federally funded program run through Medicaid, for several months to pay for the health care her son needed. Without it she would have been bankrupted by her son’s medical bills.

Social Security has kept afloat middle-class families like Dan’s from Tucson, Arizona. Dan supports his son's family with his Social Security payments because his son has cancer and can't work. Dan’s son has a wife and three kids who would struggle to deal with steep medical bills on top of day-to-day expenses if Social Security is cut.

People like Kristen and Dan have done everything right. They followed the rules, chipped in and paid their fair share. But they still come up short. They are not asking for a handout or looking to shirk their responsibilities. The facts of life are that sometimes our families need programs to serve as a support network to help us get back on our feet when life throws us the unexpected.

We need to protect the programs our families depend on, not cut them. We can and must make our health care system more cost-effective, but simply shifting costs to individuals is not a solution.

However, this is being drowned out by the financial hypocrisy of corporate CEOs and politicians who argue that we can’t afford to maintain benefits for these programs if we want to balance the budget and cut deficits. The same people who say they are serious about lowering the deficit are the most stubborn about giving away more tax cuts to the richest 2 percent. Who are the people advocating for this approach? Shadow groups like “Fix the Debt,” a responsible-sounding organization whose members are heads of big companies who would benefit mightily from some of their key proposals. The 63 “Fix the Debt” companies that are publicly held stand to gain as much as $134 billion in windfalls if Congress approves one of their main proposals — a “territorial tax system” that is an incentive for companies to move operations offshore. Under this system, companies would not have to pay U.S. federal income taxes on their offshore earnings.

The truth is, all this “grand bargain” talk isn’t about the deficit. It’s a political ploy to use deficit hysteria to implement the policies of the past—the policies of giving more and more tax breaks to the wealthy while cutting benefits for the poor and middle class. This isn’t the way to make progress. From lost jobs to cuts to our schools, health care and public safety, regular Americans have already sacrificed enough.

It’s time we asked the richest 2 percent to pay their fair share and start focusing on jobs and real economic security for all.

Some of our representatives, like Paul Gosar, need to tell us where they stand on this issue. Will you give away more tax cuts to the richest 2 percent of Americans and tell middle class families “you’re on your own?” Or will you stand with working families and advocate for an economy that works for all? We are counting on Congress to do the right thing.

• Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO, and Rebekah Friend is a Mesa resident and executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO.

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