Activists: Lame Duck Congress Shouldn’t Hurt Working Americans
AFL-CIO, others raise concerns about sequestration.
The president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, along with union workers, retirees, and others last week called on the state’s lame duck Representatives to Congress to not agree to a sequestration deal that would hurt retirees and not raise taxes on the wealthy.
The sequestration deal, also known as The Budget Control Act of 2011, was put together after President Barack Obama wanted to raise the debt ceiling to $17.2 trillion and the Republican-controlled Congress balked at the idea. The two sides came to agreement: $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts spread out over 10 years, with half coming out of the defense department, if leaders didn’t come together to create an alternative budget debt reduction solution by Jan. 1, 2012. The White House, at the time, hailed the plan as “a win for the economy and budget discipline.”
The Bush tax cuts, which were extended until after the election, also end on the same day.
But now that the election is over with no alternative deal was put together and the deadline looming, leaders are attempting to strike a last minute deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and avert a perceived crisis.
Mark MacKenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, and others last week held a press conference and called the fiscal cliff “the most difficult decision that we will, as a country, face.” While Social Security and Medicare cuts were not a major part of the deal, MacKenzie believed that they might be added in by the lame duck Congress. He said that Congress had the ability to do anything it wanted, but he and others were opposed to having any of the retirement programs cut or the Bush tax cuts ended for middle-class families. Instead, MacKenzie said, he was in agreement with Obama that those people who should be tax more are “those people who can most afford to pay taxes" to end the deficit.
“We understand that they’re a problems that need to be solved,” he said. “But I hope we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water as we solve these problems.”
Three others spoke at the press conference including a retiree, a postal worker on the verge of retirement, and a working mom whose husband is working as a part-time teacher trying to get his masters degree.
Kristen Nocella Marchese of Nashua pointed to the 8.2 percent Medicare cuts as inappropriate and noted that she was on the Healthy Kids program when her son was born and very ill, and she couldn’t afford the hospital care. She called the cuts “a bad deal for workers, a bad deal for my generation, and a bad deal for the generations to come.”
Ed Barnes of Nashua called on the representatives to not make the cuts and to raise taxes on the rich instead. He said his parents relied on the retirement programs and didn’t want to see them cut. Barnes also said he feared that a privatization plan might be proposed. After 2008, many of his friends lost half their retirement savings and he didn’t want to see that happen again.
Barnes said he didn’t want to lose his tax cut because he had used the money to buy groceries, pay his utility bills, and help put his son through college. He also said he didn’t want to see the younger generations, like his son, saddled with the debt that the government was creating.
“There is a better way to handle the debt – that’s by ending the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent,” he said. “We’ve seen in the last 20 years that trickle down economics doesn’t work. It’s time to end handouts to the wealthy that don’t do us any good.”
Donna Woodfin of Concord, who retired about seven years ago, said she often felt that she was living on the edge, even though she was living better than many. She also sometimes works as a consultant. While some folks used their Social Security to take trips or buy cars, Woodfin said that she needed it to survive.
“We must protect average Americans like myself,” she said, “by protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and avoid more tax breaks for the wealthiest Top 2 percent.”
During the question and answer phase, MacKenzie was asked about why activists were pointing to ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich when it only brings in $54 billion annually and were not supporting the sequestration cuts that come in at $120 billion when staring at a $1.1 trillion annual deficit for FY13. He said there would be other long-term fixes with many things on the table. MacKenzie said Obama had other ideas to fix programs and increase revenues. However, their larger concern, was that the cuts would hit the poor and wouldn’t be fair.
“We know that this has been low fruit for a long time,” he said. “There are many other things that will be proposed over the next couple of months that will make a whole lot more sense, including the cuts in defense spending and other things that might be going on. But we’re going to leave that to the president and the people in our national office who will look at those things more closely.”
MacKenzie added, “What we’re saying today is to stay away from those major programs and make sure that the richest people of this country pay their fair share of taxes to this country.”