Guest commentary: Working families can't afford another crisis
By RICHARD TRUMKA
Last month, we saw Washington at its worst. Republican leaders, driven by the tea party, recklessly shut down our government and brought our nation to the brink of default. Ignoring voices of reason from working families across Illinois, some of our leaders in Congress listened to shouts of "shut it down" and inflicted unnecessary damage to our economy.
The shutdown cost 120,000 jobs in the first two weeks of October and will reduce economic growth by at least .25 percent in the fourth quarter.
And here in Illinois it directly impacted 45,801 federal workers.
Thankfully, reason prevailed, Republican leaders relented and Congress appointed negotiators to work on a new budget agreement.
Now it's on to the next fight in Washington. But before we get caught up in another news cycle where extremists convince us we shouldn't invest in our future, it is worth noting that a congressional budget is a vision. It is a blueprint that outlines our priorities as a nation. A good budget invests in America. It doesn't rob our government of the resources it needs to succeed.
A good budget properly funds its obligations and promotes the creation of well-paying jobs. It doesn't bargain away protections for our seniors and it isn't balanced on the backs of working families.
As Democrats and Republicans spend this month negotiating how to avoid another government shutdown, it is important to remind Washington politicians about what working families need.
The recovery is still being dragged down by the repeated budget crises manufactured by Republicans in Congress. Budget austerity in the Tea Party Congress has already slowed annual economic growth by 0.7 percent, cost 1.2 million jobs, and increased the unemployment rate by 0.8 percent, according to Macroeconomic Advisers.
First, Congress should repeal the sequester it created, not replace it. The sequester's dumb across- the-board cuts have hurt everything from education to child care to medical research.
Repealing the sequester would generate 800,000 jobs by this time next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The next budget should undo this painful damage — and not replace it with other harmful cuts.
Most importantly, policymakers in Washington must reject proposals to cut Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare benefits. They should avoid deficit hysteria promoted by billionaires and the 1 percent.
Instead of terrifying our parents and grandparents with threats to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits they've earned, politicians should protect these vital programs that have shielded the elderly and vulnerable from poverty for generations. Our nation's safety net should be strengthened, not weakened, because working people need more economic security, not less.
Instead, Congress should look to raise new revenue by repealing the tax subsidies that encourage corporations to send jobs overseas and ending special tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. When the average CEO's salary for the first morning on the job is the same amount the average worker makes in a year, it's clear that the wealthiest Americans and corporations making record profits can pay their fair share.
Ending these undeserved and wasteful tax breaks would allow us to invest in our workforce and create the well-paying jobs millions so desperately need. By rebuilding our infrastructure, education, and manufacturing base, we can create good jobs with good benefits and provide relief to our struggling working and middle class.This is America, after all. No job should trap anyone in a vicious cycle of poverty.
In addition, Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform, so that 11 million aspiring Americans are no longer second-class citizens and the rights of all workers are protected.
Allowing hard-working immigrants to contribute to our communities would increase our economic growth, support important benefit programs and create an estimated 4,400 jobs in Illinois.
By focusing on helping working families instead of how to score political points, Congress can produce a budget that supports an economy that works for all.
It is time to tell Congress: Instead of shutting down progress, please listen to the needs of the hardworking voters who sent you to Washington.
Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO. Michael Carrigan is president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.