GUEST COMMENTARY: Don't push working families off fiscal cliff

2012-11-21T18:41:00Z 2012-11-21T19:00:41Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Don't push working families off fiscal cliffBy Richard Trumka and Nancy Guyott
November 21, 2012 6:41 pm  • 

The election is over, but now our country faces another big moment. Behind closed doors, some members of Congress are using the lame duck congressional session to arrange a “grand bargain” — and some are insisting on extending tax cuts for the richest 2 percent of Americans while cutting Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits.

We can’t afford to make benefit cuts to these programs that are the backbone of our middle class, depended upon by people across Indiana and millions of Americans across the country.

Who would be impacted by these decisions in Washington?

Working Americans like Les from Indianapolis would be affected. At age 51, he’s been a roofer for more than 20 years – putting in day after day of backbreaking, physical labor. The work has taken its toll on his body already, but he muddles through to put food on his family’s table. Les can’t work forever and if Congress decides raise the retirement age it will jeopardize not only his physical health but his family’s financial security.

Kristen from Nashua, N.H., who was a single mother when her son was born five years ago, will be impacted too. Because her son was born very sick, she relied on New Hampshire Healthy Kids, a federally funded program run through Medicaid, for several months to pay for the health care her son needed. Without New Hampshire Healthy Kids, she would have been bankrupted by her son’s medical bills.

Social Security has kept afloat middle-class families like Dan’s from Tucson, Ariz. Dan supports his son’s family with his Social Security payments because his son has cancer and can’t work. Dan’s son has a wife and three kids who would struggle even more financially if Social Security is cut. They already have to deal with steep medical bills on top of day-to-day expenses.

People like Les, Kristen and Dan have done everything right. They followed the rules, chipped in and paid their fair share. But they still come up short.

These folks are not asking for a handout or looking to shirk responsibility for their lives. The facts of life are that sometimes, stuff out of our control happens. And when it does, our families need programs to serve as a support network to help us get back on our feet.

The reality is many working people are still struggling to get by in a slow economic recovery. Working people need more economic security, not less. We need to protect the programs our families depend on, not cut benefits. We can and must make our entire health care system more cost-effective, but simply shifting costs to individuals is no solution at all.

However, this reality is already being drowned out by the financial hypocrisy of corporate CEOs and politicians who argue that we can’t afford to maintain benefits for these programs if we want to balance the budget and cut deficits. The same people who say they are serious about lowering the deficit are the most stubborn about giving away more tax cuts to the richest 2 percent.

Who are the people advocating for this approach? Shadow groups like “Fix the Debt,” a responsible-sounding organization whose members are heads of big companies who would benefit mightily from some of their key proposals. The 63 “Fix the Debt” companies that are publicly held stand to gain as much as $134 billion in windfalls if Congress approves one of their main proposals — a “territorial tax system” that is an incentive for companies to send jobs overseas. Under this system, companies would not have to pay U.S. federal income taxes on their offshore earnings.

The truth is, all this “grand bargain” talk isn't about the deficit. It’s a political ploy to use deficit hysteria to implement the policies of the past — the policies of giving more and more tax breaks to the wealthy while cutting benefits for the poor and middle class. This isn't the way to make progress. From lost jobs to cuts to our schools, health care and public safety, regular Americans have already sacrificed enough.

It’s time we asked the richest 2 percent to pay their fair share and start focusing on jobs and real economic security for all.

As our representative in Congress, they need to tell us where they stand. Will they give away more tax cuts to the richest 2 percent of Americans and tell middle class families, “You're on your own”? Or will you stand with working families and advocate for an economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy?

Richard Trumka is AFL-CIO president. Nancy Guyott is Indiana AFL-CIO president. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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