BY RICHARD TRUMKA and KEN RILEY
The election may be over, but now our country faces another big moment. Behind closed doors, some members of Congress are using the lame duck congressional session to arrange a “grand bargain” — and some are insisting on giving new tax cuts to the richest 2 percent of Americans while cutting Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits.
We can’t afford to make benefit cuts to these programs that are the backbone of our middle class, depended upon by people across South Carolina and millions of Americans across the country.
Who would be impacted by these decisions in Washington?
Carole Benson of Charleston was a management trainer prior to retirement. As a trainer she saw many people staying in jobs they didn’t like just to have medical benefits — not good for productivity or personal development. When she retired, she was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. She now depends on Medicare for medications and health care. Without Medicare she would not be able to maintain her health and volunteer in her community. Without Medicare and Social Security she would be a burden on her son and his family.
Erin McKee of Mount Pleasant got Social Security for her son for about nine years, and that enabled her to live in a good school district, enabling her son to go to college and get a good-paying job and contribute into the Social Security and Medicare systems for others.
People like Carol and Erin have done everything right. They followed the rules, chipped in and paid their fair share. But they still come up short. These folks are not asking for a handout or looking to shirk responsibility for their lives. The facts of life are that sometimes, stuff out of our control happens. When it does, our families need programs to serve as a support network to help us get back on our feet.
The reality is that many working people are still struggling to get by in a slow economic recovery. We need to protect the programs our families depend on, not cut them. That can happen by addressing health care cost-saving measures in Medicare and Medicaid, but it can’t happen by cutting benefits.
However, this reality is already 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 foreign earnings when they bring the profits back to the United States.
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. As our representatives in the U.S. House, Joe Wilson, Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Tim Scott and Mick Mulvaney need to tell us where they stand.
Will you give away more tax cuts to the super wealthy 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 Americans, not just the wealthiest 2 percent?
Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO. Ken Riley is president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO.