Unions Mobilize to Protect Safety Net

Union members mobilize to protect safety net

November 9, 2012 by William Rogers

Union members joined progressive allies on November 8 at more than 100 local protests against possible cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The proposed cuts to three of the nation’s most popular safety net programs are on the table as President Obama and Republican Congressional leaders begin negotiations on debt reduction legislation that could be enacted before the current lame duck Congress adjourns in December.

Opponents of the safety net programs, including corporate officers and Wall Street insiders, have insisted that any new budget deal must include cuts to the safety net. The Congressional Progressive Caucus reports that these CEOs and private equity owners have financed “a $30 million lobbying effort to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid before this Congress goes home for the holidays.”

In response, the AFL-CIO and progressive groups have initiated a grassroots mobilization effort to oppose the cuts. The November 8 actions kicked off the mobilization campaign.

One of these actions took place in Cincinnati, where protestors gathered in front of the local office of US Sen. Rob Portman for a press conference. At the press conference, a young woman, whose son is disabled, described her son’s Medicaid benefits as a lifeline for her family.

In Milwaukee, the demonstrators attended a forum on the proposed cuts sponsored by US Rep. Gwen Moore. At the forum,  IAM member Brad Esson described the importance of Social Security.

“I’ve spent my entire life working hard to pay the bills for myself and my family,” Esson said. ”I believe that every person deserves the chance to retire in dignity. Shame on any congressperson that does not share that core American belief.”

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO said that Thursday’s actions were designed “to hold elected leaders accountable.”

Trumka referred to the results of exit polling during the Presidential elections that show broad support for maintaining the safety net. A survey conducted by Hart Associates at polls during Tuesday’s election found that 73 percent of those polled think protecting Social Security and Medicare is more important than reducing the deficit and 64 percent favored raising taxes on the rich rather than cutting benefits

“The people advocating for benefit cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are the same folks who want to cut taxes for the richest 2 percent,” Trumka said. “With working families across the country still struggling, we can’t afford to pay for any more tax breaks for those who need them the least.”

Among those who have helped finance the lobbying effort to scale back the nation’s safety net is billionaire Pete Peterson, cofounder of the Blackstone Group, one the world’s largest private equity firms.

According to Bill Black, an economist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One, Peterson’s foundation, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, has been funding a media campaign to press “the false meme that the safety net is unsustainable and a threat to the nation.”

The foundation has also helped finance a lobbying group called the Third Way, which represents businesses and individuals aligned with what Black calls the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party.

The Third Way, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, The Concord Coalition, and New America Foundation are all front groups for Wall Street insiders like Peterson that have been conducting an intense lobbying effort to reduce Social Security, Medicare, and Medicare.

Their hope is that reduced benefits will erode support for safety net programs and make their privatization easier. Black describes the proposed cuts as “the opening wedge of efforts to unravel the safety net.”

James Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin, writing for Salon.com says that leaders of the finance industry have long looked on the payroll taxes that support Social Security and Medicare as giant revenue streams that should be diverted to private interests like hedge funds, private equity companies, and insurance companies.

They also see these benefits as a public good that undermine the foundation of market principles that have served them so well.

“Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the main way ordinary Americans connect to their federal government,” writes Galbraith. ”They have made a vast change in family life, unburdening the young of their parents and ensuring that every working person contributes whether they have parents, dependents, survivors or disabled of their own to look after. These programs do this work seamlessly, for next to nothing; their managers earn civil service salaries and the checks arrive on time. For the private competition, this is intolerable; the model is a threat to free markets and must be destroyed.”

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