WASHINGTON - One
of the top union leaders in the country warned on Monday that the
Democratic Party risked suffering electoral losses of historic
proportions if they pass watered-down health care legislation and
refuse to seriously tackle financial regulatory reform.
In a speech before the National Press Club (and comments
beforehand), AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka insisted that Democrats
are "inviting a repeat" of the 1994 midterm elections by instituting a
tax on high-end insurance plans as part of their final health care
compromise, among other things.
"It could well be" a recipe for disaster in 2010, Trumka told a
group of reporters. "I just came back from southern California. I was
in five or six places out there... it is amazing the number of people
that come up to you unsolicited and say, 'I'm really worried about this
health care bill.'"
Asked if he thought union and non-union workers will stay at home if
health care reform (as outlined by the Senate) is passed into law,
Trumka replied: "That could very well happen. A bad bill could have
that effect... an [election] where people sit home. It could suppress
votes... Look at what happened in '94."
In his speech before a packed crowd, the AFL-CIO president was blunt
with his electoral prognosis, branching out his criticism of
Democratic-authored reform beyond the realm of health care.
"In 1992, workers voted for Democrats who promised action on jobs,
who talked about reining in corporate greed and who promised health
care reform," Trumka said, according to a version of his prepared
remarks. "Instead, we got NAFTA, an emboldened Wall Street -- and not
much more. We swallowed our disappointment and worked to preserve a
Democratic majority in 1994 because we knew what the alternative was.
But there was no way to persuade enough working Americans to go to the
polls when they couldn't tell the difference between the two parties.
Politicians who think that working people have it too good -- too much
health care, too much Social Security and Medicare, too much power on
the job -- are inviting a repeat of 1994."
The specter of massive congressional losses is certainly a topic of
deep concern within Democratic circles. And it should be noted that
Trumka's sentiments are shared by several Democratic lawmakers in the
House of Representatives -- many of whom campaigned in 2008 on a pledge
not to tax high-end insurance plans (which often cover workers who have
negotiated away wages in exchange for the coverage).
Likewise, President Obama ran for office on a platform that vilified
a tax on so-called Cadillac plans before reversing course once health
care negotiations hit a critical stage between the House and Senate.
Asked to explain Obama's reversal, Trumka directed questions to the
White House. He and more than half a dozen other labor leaders are
slated to meet with the president this afternoon to go over such policy
"It is a meeting among friends," Trumka described it.