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Blogs / Power

Left Divided Over 'Grand Bargain'

November 8, 2012
Groups concerned with protecting entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare are finding themselves at odds over whether an overarching fiscal deal during Congress's end-of-year session would help or hurt their cause.

The AFL-CIO organized a day of action on Thursday--part of a broader post-election campaign to protect entitlements--with dozens of events scheduled nationwide to urge lawmakers to avoid such a deal.

A "grand bargain" to prevent the year-end onset of tax hikes and spending cuts "could cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, all to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans," the labor group argued on its organizing site. But the union campaign is being met with resistance from others on the left.

"We, like you, are ecstatic about the reelection of President Barack Obama and what it meansĀ or American growth and prosperity," wrote Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy for Third Way, a liberal think tank with a centrist approach, in an open letter to the groups involved with the day of action. "However, as fellow progressives, we were disappointed to learn that you will be leading an effort against the President to impede a balanced grand bargain."

In order to protect safety-net programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, the left must embrace reform, Kessler writes. As structured, the programs risk becoming insolvent and their rising costs eat into spending that could go to other progressive goals such as investments in infrastructure or education, he argues. And, while raising taxes should be a part of addressing the "fiscal cliff," it's far from the solution.

"Only raising taxes on the wealthy will not deliver the revenue needed to solve long-term deficits and maintain the safety net," Kessler writes. But the AFL-CIO views a "grand bargain" as simply a vehicle to protect those upper-income tax cuts.

"What is the grand bargain? It boils down to lower tax rates for rich people -- paid for by benefit cuts for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka wrote in an October op-ed. The group isn't opposed to reforming entitlement spending, he wrote, but benefits must be preserved.

Thursday's day of action is part of a broader campaign to ensure entitlement benefits are spared the axe in the fiscal cliff negotiations that will dominate the political debate in the weeks to come.

"We may bring local leaders into town to lobby directly on Capitol Hill," Bill Samuel, the labor union federation's top lobbyist, told National Journal. "There are a lot of alternative ways to communicate the message, which we'll use."
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