Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday January 30th, 2013, 4:49pm

Congressmen, Labor Leaders Want Lawmakers To Stop Holding Middle Class 'Hostage' In Fiscal Cliff Talks (VIDEO)

Illinois labor representatives and U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) and Bill Foster (D-Naperville) gathered in Chicago this morning on a national day of mobilization to call on House Republicans to stop holding families and seniors hostage in the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations.

The Washington lawmakers, along with members of the Chicago Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO and advocates for the poor and middle class, stressed that tax loopholes for Wall Street and the richest Americans be closed instead of cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits.

“This is about real people who will suffer real pain if the wrong decisions are made,” said William McNary of Citizen Action Illinois.

“Budgets are moral documents, and behind the fine print of fiscal policy, there are real people who will be affected by the decisions that will be made in the coming days.”

The path to recovery starts with a focus on jobs and economic development, members of the coalition against the cuts said.

“Only then will we achieve the full recovery and really start to rebuild the middle class,” said Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. “Working families all across the country are speaking out today on this issue demanding no cuts to Social Security.”

More than 2 million Illinoisans receive Social Security, which is a program that has never added a penny to the deficit, Ramirez said.

And more than 2.5 million people in the state get their health care from Medicaid, including 1.5 million children and 200,000 seniors.

Yet the 2012 House Republican budget would cut Medicaid funding to Illinois by $27.8 billion over the next 10 years, Ramirez added.

America is facing a jobs crisis, not a deficit crisis, Ramirez said, and the focus should be on creating jobs and putting people back to work.

The labor movement has two key messages for both Democrats and Republicans in Washington, said Damon Silvers, director of policy for the national AFL-CIO.

First, there can be no direct or indirect cuts to benefits in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security in these “fiscal hostage takings,” he said.

And, he added, “If we are going to go down this path of focusing on budget deficits rather than on jobs ... we must go down it with balance between spending cuts and revenues.”

“We have just had $1.7 trillion in spending cuts as a result of the first round of fiscal hostage taking in July of 2011,” Silvers said. “That’s $1.7 trillion over 10 years in lost jobs and lost government services.”

On New Year's Eve, Congress temporarily agreed to extend the government’s borrowing authority for three months. That deal saw $600 billion in revenue from the top 2 percent of Americans, Silvers said.

But $1.7 trillion is not the same as $600 billion, he added.

“In order to get balance, you need another $1.2 trillion in revenue.”

The coalition named eliminating tax breaks for large corporations that ship jobs overseas, along with ending other corporate loopholes and addressing the country’s massive income inequality as possible ways to boost revenue.

Schakowsky agreed there should be no cuts to benefits whatsoever and said that can be achieved with a strong, mobilized electorate. Here's more from the congresswoman:

Foster said he doesn’t support benefit cuts of any kind, but said it’s likely that some small cuts could occur.

“This is not something I support,” Foster added. “This is something, frankly, that should not have been necessary have we not had the fiscal mismanagement of the last decade, but we are where we are.”

Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said labor advocates and others against cuts to benefits would continue to keep the pressure and spotlight on Congress.

The next national day of mobilization is February 20.



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