AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who previewed his labor federations legislative agenda for the 112th Congress, said he would fight efforts to extend the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. Trumka also plans to fight spending cuts proposed by the federal deficit commission.
Facing a more hostile political landscape, labor unions are gearing up for major fights on Capitol Hill next year. They’re also preparing for a potential clash with the White House if President Barack Obama compromises with Republicans.
Despite those challenges, a top union official suggested Tuesday he did not interpret Republican election victories earlier this month as a sign for his side to retreat.
“It was not a mandate for John Boehner’s America,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, referring to the Ohio Republican who is presumed to be the next Speaker.
In the lame-duck session, Trumka said his organization would fight efforts to extend the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy while lobbying for an extension of unemployment benefits that will soon expire. The labor organization will also lobby for immigration reform with a push for the DREAM Act.
And the labor group opposes the deep spending and benefit reductions recommended by the co-chairmen of the federal deficit commission, which is due to issue its final report Dec. 1. Instead of cuts next year, labor priorities would include pushing for more transportation and infrastructure spending and closing corporate tax loopholes, the union chief said.
“We will play defense, but we will also play offense,” Trumka said in a conference call with reporters.
Such a strategy will put organized labor at odds with newly empowered House Republicans, who have made it clear they want to extend all of the tax cuts and are keen to begin taking a whack at the federal budget.
The unions may also find themselves in conflict with Obama, who has suggested a willingness to negotiate with Republicans on some policies. The White House has indicated that it may be open to a temporary extension of tax cuts for upper-income earners. The president has also refrained from criticizing the initial recommendations of the federal deficit commission, which he created.
In a bid to reach out to GOP lawmakers, Obama has been trying to obtain approval of a free trade agreement with South Korea.
Not Ready for Concessions
Trumka was not ready to take conciliatory tack on the trade deal or most of the other matters. He called the deficit commission recommendations a “millstone” around the economy. He referred to the tax cuts for higher-income Americans as “TARP 2,” a reference to the widely unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program that rescued ailing banks and was approved at the height of the financial crisis in 2008.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.