AFL-CIO's Trumka calls for focus on job creation
President Obama should issue a "call to action" to invest in jobs and bring down the nation's chronically high unemployment rate, instead of sparring with Republicans over budget cuts that threaten to further weaken the American economy, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Wednesday.
In a warning directed at both newly resurgent Republicans in Congress and the Obama administration, Trumka lamented the fixation in both parties with record budget deficits and urged the president to use next week's State of the Union address to refocus the debate in Washington on jobs.
"We are a nation that still has choices," Trumka said in a speech at the National Press Club. "We don't need to hunker down, dial back our expectations, and surrender our children's hope for a great education, our parents' right to a comfortable retirement, our own health and economic security, our nation's aspiration to make things again - or our human right to advance our situation by forming a union if we want one. All these things are within the reach of the great country we live in."
But in Washington, Trumka said, "an Alice-in-Wonderland political climate" has taken hold. "In this topsy-turvy world, the same leaders who fought so valiantly to cut taxes for the wealthy turn right around and lecture us about the imminent bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare. So let me get this straight: We need to slash retirement and health benefits for the elderly because we are on the brink of fiscal crisis. But we can afford to squander hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the super-rich. Only at the Mad Hatter's tea party does this make sense."
The AFL-CIO and other labor groups spent millions of dollars to support Democratic candidates during the recent congressional midterm elections, only to watch them lose in many districts to conservatives buoyed by the small-government tea party movement. Those losses, Trumka said, were "fundamentally about jobs," and he predicted that the party that can chart a vision for a more productive future for American workers will benefit in the 2012 presidential campaign.
In his speech and an earlier interview, Trumka criticized Obama's failure to articulate a coherent jobs policy even as unemployment has hovered for months above nine percent. While the president's proposals to increase government investments in education and infrastructure would move the nation in the right direction, he said, they would invest too little to make much of a dent in the problem.
"It's scale," he said in an interview. "There has to be scale to create jobs."
For example, Obama's proposal to fund a $50 billion infrastructure bank next year is a good idea, Trumka said, "you need a ten-year commitment" to make a real difference.
"We are falling behind because we are governing from fear, not from confidence. And we have let our transnational business titans convince our politicians that our national strength lies in their profits, not our jobs," Trumka said in the speech. "We have failed to invest in the good-wage growth path that is essential to our survival."
Trumka also said he is frustrated by Obama's efforts to mend ties with the business community, including a plan announced Tuesday to review existing federal regulations with an eye toward eliminating rules that stifle job growth - a key demand by business leaders.
"We don't share the view that regulations have cost jobs or been a burden on the economy," said Peg Seminario, director of health and safety for the AFL-CIO. "In fact when you look at the financial crisis, it was the lack of regulations that led to outrageous abuses by Wall Street and the collapse of the economy."
Under questioning by reporters, however, Trumka blamed Republican efforts to obstruct the president's agenda for bulk of the nation's economic ills.
| January 19, 2011; 3:34 PM ET
Categories: *Economic agenda, Unemployment
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