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AFL-CIO's Trumka warns of 'repeat of 1994' for Democrats in 2010

By Alec MacGillis
Move our way or watch us walk away in the 2010 elections, warned AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka just hours before meeting with President Obama and other labor leaders Monday to talk about health care legislation.

If the health-care bill ends up including provisions anathema to organized labor -- as now appears quite likely -- and the White House and Congress don't show more aggressiveness on job creation, financial regulation and labor law reform, then Democrats risk seeing union members sit on their hands during the 2010 midterms, Trumka said in a speech at the National Press Club.

"This is a moment that cries out for political courage, but it is not in much evidence," he said. Without it, he said, there could be a repeat of the 1994 midterm election Democratic wipeout.

"In 1992, workers voted for Democrats who promised action on jobs, who talked about reining in corporate greed and who promised health care reform. Instead, we got NAFTA, an emboldened Wall Street - and not much more," Trumka said.

"We swallowed our disappointment and worked to preserve a Democratic majority in 1994 because we knew what the alternative was. But there was no way to persuade enough working Americans to go to the polls when they couldn't tell the difference between the two parties. Politicians who think that working people have it too good -- too much health care, too much Social Security and Medicare, too much power on the job -- are inviting a repeat of 1994," he said.

Trumka was even blunter in an interview with reporters before the speech, when he was asked about the political impact of the proposal in the Senate health-care legislation to tax costly health insurance plans.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama drummed up crucial support among skeptical union members in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania by attacking John McCain for his plan to tax all health-care benefits as regular compensation. Asked if Obama was risking electoral "disaster" by now supporting a more limited tax on health-care benefits, Trumka said that could "very well happen." "A bad bill could have that kind of effect," he said. "People could stay home. It could suppress votes."

But Trumka stopped short of saying that the AFL-CIO would not support a bill that contained a tax on costly health plans or fell short in the other areas the federation has pressed on, the inclusion of a "public option" -- which is highly unlikely -- and a strong mandate for large employers to offer coverage, which is also looking less likely.

Shortly before taking the helm in September, Trumka had left the federation's support in such an event an open question, but on Monday he acknowledged several times that labor was not going to oppose health-care reform after years of seeking it. He also dismissed a question about whether it might be hard for organized labor to pivot to supporting the bill, if their advocacy against elements such as the tax on high-cost plans has so turned off their own members against the bill. As it stands, the tax would fall on only a small handful of plans at the outset, and would tax only the value of the plans that falls above a certain threshold.

Was there a chance that workers might take from labor's agitation on this score an exaggerated notion of the tax's impact? No, Trumka said, no such exaggeration is occurring.

"We're out there telling them the truth," he said. "We're educating them on the good parts and on the bad parts."

Trumka took care to praise Obama on several points, such as the passage of the stimulus act and the proposed creation of a new consumer protection agency as part of financial regulatory reform. But his overall gist was that the promise of Obama's campaign was hanging in the balance.

"Now more than ever, we need the boldness and the clarity we saw in our president during the campaign in 2008," he said. "One year into the Obama administration, and one year into a Congress with strong Democratic majorities, we need leadership action that matches the urgency that is felt so deeply by working people."

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 11, 2010; 4:40 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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So much for hope and change.

Posted by: Kansas28 | January 12, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

A two-hour meeting at the White House to discuss the health care bill with a special interest group and nary a C-SPAN camera in sight. WWJWS? (What would Joe Wilson say?)

Posted by: Chippewa | January 11, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

What would Trumka know about what "working people" want? All he does is run unions and plot the overthrow of the American form of government.

Posted by: Deano2009 | January 11, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

What would Trumka know about what "working people" want? All he does is run unions and plot the overthrow of the USA.

Posted by: Deano2009 | January 11, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

for all those in favor of this bill passing, "If it does I hope you enjoy your outragous new taxes"!

Posted by: rainman2 | January 11, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Most WORKERS are not union members. The hardest working people in this country are NOT union workers. The people who pay the overwhelming majority of taxes ARE NOT Union thugs.

If the democrats give into the unions, they won't get 40% of the votes in November.

Posted by: Cornell1984 | January 11, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

Democrats and Union are once again trying to screw the American people...

Unions are a minority in America!!!

The wages unions make are not in synchronization with normal hard working Americans!!

Non-union workers subsidize union wages and it totally sucks!! NO MORE!!


Posted by: charko825 | January 11, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't one of Obamas campain promises, "NO NEW TAXES". For god sake vote these people out as soon as possiable.

Posted by: rainman2 | January 11, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't one of Obamas campain promises, "NO NEW TAXES". For god sake vote these people out as soon as possiable.

Posted by: rainman2 | January 11, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Labor and Blacks have one thing in common. They strongly back the Democratic Party no matter what happens. As a direct result -- they get NOTHING from the Democratic Congress. Instead of EFCA being the number 1 bill passed by Congress to reward the Unions for their 400 MILLION spent to get the Democratic President and Congress elected for the very purpose of passing EFCA, the Democrats make promises of future action that NEVER comes. There is Specter and Lincoln who are BOTH killing EFCA, yet the Unions give them a pass. Until the Unions in general, and Trumka in particular, are viewed as dogs that bite, all they are is "all bark and no bite."Oh by the way, they already know you are pass the next 400 Million to them to keep them in office. The only ones who do not seem to have a clue is Trumka and his Unions.

Posted by: N369RM | January 11, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Has it occurred to the AFL-CIO that they are practically extinct?
How many unions remain in existence in this country? How many union jobs are available to our citizens?
This is not much of a threat, coming from a movement that has been "outsourced" to every foreign country where "unions" are not permitted to exist in the first place.

Posted by: cms1 | January 11, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

When the destination is fantasy-land, Obama, Reid and Pelosi should not be surprised when they have some troubles getting there.

Posted by: pgr88 | January 11, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Well .......tell the mob-run AFL-CIO that our corrupt liberal/progressive MSM wolfpack press is doing EVERYTHING they can to prop Obama and the Democrats back up.

The liberal/progressive fascists that own, manage, and report for the corrupt Washington POST are doing their part by running anti-Republican and anti-Conservative stories on their front page.

These Fascists have one up there now on Sarah Palin, who isn't even a public figure why the attack on Palin POST? .....paronoid?

POST= dishonest dirty liberal/progressive progaganda outlet for the Democrat Party.....

Posted by: allenridge | January 11, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

The best thing that could happen to the American people is if the health care legislation in its current form would fail.

Reform, yes. But government takeover, No.

Posted by: tonyjm | January 11, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Fair points. The AFL-CIO should also note that if they are the force that defeats healthcare, they will be vilified and demonized by working Americans who have been ignored by organized labor and can not even get healthcare.
Americans know who destroyed the auto industry; if you also destroy our hope for healthcare you'll deserve what you get.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | January 11, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

The bottom line is that Senate Dems have no more than 60 votes, and they could very well lose centrists without the Cadillac tax. Those are the facts.

Posted by: parkerfl1 | January 11, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse


here today from the British Daily Telegraph
describing Depression Obama in America:

"The labour force contracted by 661,000. This did not show up in the headline jobless rate because so many Americans dropped out of the system. The broad U6 category of unemployment rose to 17.3pc. That is the one that matters.

Wall Street rallied. Bulls hope that weak jobs data will postpone monetary tightening: a silver lining in every catastrophe, or perhaps a further exhibit of market infantilism.

US benefit claims hit 26-year peak
US unemployment hits 26-year peakThe home foreclosure guillotine usually drops a year or so after people lose their job, and exhaust their savings.

The local sheriff will escort them out of the door, often with some sympathy –– just like the police in 1932, mostly Irish Catholics who tithed 1pc of their pay for soup kitchens.

Realtytrac says defaults and repossessions have been running at over 300,000 a month since February.

One million American families lost their homes in the fourth quarter.

Moody's expects another 2.4m homes to go this year.

Taken together, this looks awfully like Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath."


Depression Obama--why YOU may lose YOUR job

Posted by: ProCounsel | January 11, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

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