President Obama meets with labor and progressive leaders today about the fiscal slope. I hardly want to be accused of being cynical, but he’s meeting with the group furthest to the left in the conversation the furthest away from the actual negotiations on the deal; tomorrow, he welcomes business leaders to the White House.
The leaders of SEIU, AFSCME, the NEA and the AFL-CIO will participate in the meeting, as well as representatives from the Center for Community Change, MoveOn, the Center for American Progress, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the Common Purpose Project (the ultimate veal pen coalition) and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Many of these groups have been organizing since the election against a grand bargain that would cut social safety net programs. But past performance does not guarantee future results. And nobody should expect a harmonious working relationship between these groups and the White House on these matters, nor should they expect a permanent oppositional stance to social insurance cuts from progressive organizations, despite their protests.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told The Huffington Post last week that his group would oppose any deal that cuts the three big entitlement programs.
“Yes. Yes. Yes. The voters yesterday rejected that notion soundly,” Trumka said at a briefing on Nov. 7. “The answer is, if it includes benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, we’ll oppose it.”
Van Jones, co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, went further, noting that none of the progressive political institutions have “demobilized” since the election.
“We are still on a complete fighting posture because we knew we had to win the politics in November and then on the economy in December,” Jones said. “For the progressives who threw ourselves on hand grenades for the president over the past 24 months and especially the past six months, we are not going to be happy at all if he turns around and takes a chainsaw to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in pursuit of some misguided so-called grand bargain.”
We have to see what happens if these same groups present whatever deal comes down the pike as less than “taking a chainsaw” to these programs, and therefore acceptable. These are the groups that worked hard and spent lots of money getting Obama re-elected. You can see this as building capital for getting their voices heard in the White House, or blowing leverage they had with a President who now never needs their votes or their help again.
I don’t have any special inside information into how this will all go; I’m merely basing this on past history. Maybe progressive groups have drawn a line in the sand they will not cross, wary of having to deal with their own constituencies. Maybe they won’t have terms dictated from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They can certainly show us from their post-meeting actions.