Labor heads say Obama backs them on 'fiscal cliff'

Associated Press
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, left,  accompanied by Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union, center, and Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,  right, speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, after a meeting between business leaders and President Barack Obama to discuss the economy and deficit. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Labor leaders said Tuesday that President Barack Obama remains committed to preserving tax cuts for middle class families and ensuring the wealthy pay more in taxes, outlining plans for a public campaign to pressure Republican lawmakers.

The heads of several labor unions and Democratic-leaning interest groups emerged from an hourlong meeting with Obama saying they were united with the president on how to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" and prevent more financial hardships next year.

"We are very, very committed to making sure that the middle class and workers don't end up paying the tab for a party that we didn't get to go to and the president is committed to that as well," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Labor leaders said they plan to mobilize their members in the coming weeks to press Republicans to support the extension of tax cuts for middle income families. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said labor needs to remain "as engaged as we were in the election throughout the rest of this year to make sure we get the Republican House to say yes to tax cuts for the middle class."

One participant in the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private session, said the president told the group that he was not going to bend on letting tax cuts expire for top wage earners. The president said that the tax issue was clear during the election and that he had extended the Bush-era tax cuts once and would not do so again, the participant said.

According to participants, White House aides said the president intends to hold campaign-style events across the country after Thanksgiving to drum up support for his proposed solution to the fiscal cliff. It would build upon more than 100 rallies organized by labor unions last week urging members of Congress to avoid cuts to entitlement programs.

Obama was kicking off a series of meetings this week with labor officials, business executives and congressional leaders aimed at finding consensus on the fiscal cliff. The week will include a tone-setting news conference Wednesday that will give the president the chance to frame his outlook on the year-ending lame duck session.

The president views his re-election as an affirmation of his belief that raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year is what voters want. Republican House Speaker John Boehner has expressed a willingness to raise revenues but remains opposed to boosting tax rates, pointing instead to closing tax loopholes, lowering rates and fixing entitlement programs.

Both sides have voiced the potential for cooperation, but face a post-election confrontation over a series of expiring tax cuts approved during the George W. Bush presidency and tough, across-the-board spending cuts set to take place because lawmakers failed to reach a deal to reduce the federal debt.

Economists have warned the combination of the expiring tax cuts and reduced spending could hinder the economic recovery.

During Tuesday's meeting, participants said the president reiterated his contention that the wealthy should pay more in taxes and that his views were vindicated by the election. They said the president showed no willingness to extend the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy. "He's standing firm on taxes, on the issue of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans," said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress.

The labor and liberal organizations said they made clear their opposition to any benefit cuts to Medicare recipients or increasing the eligibility age. Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, said after the meeting he was confident that "whatever savings come out of those programs would not come out of beneficiaries or citizens, it would be focused more on providers."

Obama meets Wednesday with a dozen CEOs from companies such as General Electric, Walmart, Ford and Chevron. Some of the participants are involved with The Campaign to Fix the Debt, which has pushed for a long-term plan to fix the nation's debt and deficits.

The gatherings set the stage for a Friday meeting with the top four leaders of Congress before Obama departs on a trip to Asia leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.

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Associated Press writers Sam Hananel and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.

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