As conservatives praise Congressional Republicans for this month’s government shutdown, liberal leaders on the left likewise sought to lockdown Democrats in the looming fight over entitlement spending in Washington.
“No politician… and I don’t care the political party… will get away with cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits. Don’t try it,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a speech to be given in Las Vegas, on Tuesday. “This warning goes double for Democrats,” he said. “We will never forget. We will never forgive. And we will never stop working to end your career.”
Like leaders of the right-wing Tea Party, left-wing labor unions are threatening to punish any bi-partisan dealmakers with political termination. Whereas AFL-CIO leaders had in the past threatened to merely withhold support for such Democrats, Trumka said they would now actively oppose them during future primary races, using massive amounts of political money.
Among entitlement spending issues, the so-called “chained CPI,” an inflation index that would slow cost-of-living increases for entitlement beneficiaries, has been declared a redline by labor leaders. With support from some Congressional Democrats, President Obama included the chain CP in his 2014 federal budget, pairing the compromise item with extra funding to help the elderly and poor.
For those hoping for bipartisan fiscal compromise, the chained CPI represents an integral part of any “grand bargain” among Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. However, Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s policy director, referred to the new cost-of-living index, in an interview last week with The Washington Post, as “the vampire of American politics,” which “keeps being shot through the heart [but] keeps reviving.”
Likewise, Trumka said he had a “sinking feeling that too many politicians are ready to put the hurt on regular working people,” arguing in favor of increases for Social Security payments. On federal macroeconomic policy, the labor leader criticized the nation’s “self-imposed scarcity” driven by fear rather than logic, echoing every other column written for the past three years by pro-growth economist and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman.
“Millions of Americans are afraid Social Security might not be there for them,” he said. “We cannot listen to that fear and believe Social Security is the problem. It isn’t. The fear is. Instead of cutting Social Security, which will make the fear come true, we should, as a nation, invest in Social Security. Increase benefits.”
In the speech, directed toward the annual conference of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, Trumka also criticized Obama on limitations of the Affordable Care Act. Although Obamacare represents a “significant step forward,” according to Trumka, the administration has angered big labor by refusing to extend government subsidies to multi-employer healthcare plans administrated by unions, as opposed to major insurance companies.
“This is one of my top priorities, and we’re going to keep talking with the federal government agencies and the White House and Congress regarding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act until we get what we want and need,” he said.
On the other side of the political spectrum, however, conservative media commentator Ann Coulter praised Congressional Republicans for their stalwart goal-line stand against Obamacare, which shuttered much of the federal government — worldwide — for 16 days this month. “The shutdown was so magnificent, run beautifully,” she said on Monday. “I’m so proud of these Republicans, and that is because they have branded the Republican Party as the anti-Obamacare party.”
Yet, other conservatives remained unconvinced of the utility of the federal government shutdown, which cost some $28 billion. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, a former Reagan White House speechwriter and MSNBC personality, criticized Republican leaders for managing political stagecraft without achieving any goals.
“Republicans should refuse to raise the white flag and insist on an honorable avenue of retreat,” Buchanan wrote in his longstanding column last week. “And if Harry Reid’s Senate demands the GOP end the sequester on federal spending, or be blamed for a debt default, the party should, Samson-like, bring down the roof of the temple on everybody’s head.”
In contrast to Coulter’s heroes, Buchanan characterized Congressional Republicans as a “basket of wimps.”
Similarly, some two-thirds Republicans and Republican-leaning independents expressed dissatisfaction with the government shutdown, in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. And although the vast majority of Tea Party Republicans blamed Obama for the impasse, many establishment conservatives found fault with Congressional Republicans, too.
For Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican of Texas, however, the shutdown remains a success, and eventually might prove a Pyrrhic victory for Democrats.