LaborTalk for July 26, 2011

Whatever Happens, Workers Will Suffer
A $1 Trillion (Plus) in New Spending Cuts

By Harry Kelber

Whether or not Democrats and Republicans reach a bipartisan agreement on raising the nation's debt ceiling before the August 2 deadline, American workers and retirees can expect spending cuts of at least $1 trillion, that would reduce their living standards and retirement income, as well as affect working conditions on the job. And it would increase unemployment, rather than reducing it.

For dozens of years, Congress has routinely raised the federal debt ceiling, without much debate, compared with the furious, ongoing battle between Democrats and Republicans about the size of the increase, and who will pay for it. Both parties are trying to use the government debt problem for political advantage to win control of Congress in the 2012 elections.

As for who will pay for the trillions needed to boost the nation's borrowing powers, guess who? It will be the middle class, the retirees and the working poor — the people who are most vulnerable. They must wonder what a trillion dollars in spending cuts will do to them.

Millions of Unemployed Are Totally Ignored

For more than six months, the Obama administration and the House Republicans have engaged in political theater about the federal debt ceiling, while the country is plagued by real crises, that they have chosen to neglect.

Although some 14 million people are officially listed as unemployed, and millions more can't find a job after months of looking for one, Obama has done little to deal with their problems, nor have the Republicans. In fact, trillion-dollar spending cuts will add to the unemployment rolls.

There is a health-care crisis, with nearly 50 million Americans unable to afford insurance coverage. There is an economic crisis, with working families, living on stagnant wages, who can't afford the necessities of ordinary life. There is an infrastructure crisis, where hardly any attention is being paid to crumbling bridges, deteriorating roads and unrepaired government buildings. There is an education crisis, in which too many of our children are doing poorly in dilapidated, ill-equipped schools.

Why are the Republicans and Democrats focused almost exclusively on raising the debt ceiling, which should be the easiest of our government's problems?

* * * * *

It is disturbing that the AFL-CIO and most of its major union affiliates have paid little public attention to the Obama-Boehner poker game, in which the chips are spending cuts — a trillion dollars' worth — to be imposed on workers and retirees without their knowledge and consent.

Shouldn't we know — in advance — what spending cuts are going to be inflicted on us, so we can challenge those we consider unfair and unnecessary? And shouldn't we be told what sacrifices Wall Street and Corporate America are being asked to make to cut the $14.3 trillion federal debt?

We agree that the federal debt ceiling must be raised; it would be a national catastrophe if it weren't increased before the August 2 deadline. But why shouldn't the AFL-CIO be allowed to represent us as the third party at the negotiating table, so we can have a voice on deciding issues like raising the federal debt ceiling?

LaborTalk will be posted here on July 29, 2011 and on our two web sites and on

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