North America's Strongest Union

No Need to Rush to Avoid Fiscal Cliff

By James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Published in The Detroit News on November 14, 2012

Working people sent a clear message on Nov. 6: We do not want cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. We do want jobs, investment in infrastructure and higher taxes on millionaires.

They voted for candidates who supported these things even in races for the House of Representatives. Though Republicans still control the House, they lost the popular vote because they'd gerrymandered so many districts.

Unions supplied the boots on the ground that handed President Barack Obama victories in the industrial Midwest. In doing so, they proved they can beat CEOs and billionaires who spend huge amounts of money on their candidates and causes.

But the CEOs and the billionaires don't give up. On Nov. 7, they renewed their drive to seize every available penny from middle- and working-class Americans.

Their goal is to get rid of the retirement and health benefits that ordinary people work all their lives to earn.

They hide their intentions behind front groups with names like "Fix the Debt."

These groups, armed with dishonest lobbyists, work hard to create a phony crisis in Washington. After all, a crisis could convince politicians to do things that are extremely unpopular with the voters — like cutting Social Security benefits.

This phony crisis has a name: the "fiscal cliff."

The billionaires and CEOs would have you believe that terrible things will happen (we'll "go over the fiscal cliff") if Congress and the president don't reach some sort of budget agreement by Dec. 31. And it's true that jobs would be lost if the spending cuts agreed to last summer aren't modified.

In July, extremists in Congress threatened to shut the government down unless a deal was reached to cut spending. Terrible things really would have happened in that case. So Congress and President Obama agreed to let payroll and Bush tax cuts expire on Dec. 31. Across-the-board budget cuts would take effect as well. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid wouldn't be touched.

Now, of course, the "Fix the Debt" lobbyists are telling us how to avoid the fiscal cliff. They say the responsible approach is to cut Social Security benefits in order to fix the deficit. But even they admit Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. And Social Security's future problems can be easily fixed.

Economists like Dean Baker and Paul Krugman remind us that terrible things won't happen if a deal isn't reached by Dec. 31. Government spending would slow, but not catastrophically. And the withholding schedule for taxes would change for a few weeks.

There's still time to negotiate an agreement in January or February. The advantage of waiting until next year is that the politics will be more favorable to lawmakers who oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The fiscal cliff is nothing more than economic blackmail. Workers must not allow the billionaires to get away with it.

Otherwise, they'll wake up one day to find the system was slowly carved up, and when they're too old to work the benefits they earned will be gone.

To read archived articles from General President Hoffa, click here.

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