PRESIDENT OBAMA’S REELECTION in November of 2012 signaled confidence from the American people regarding the direction of the country — and a strong rebuke of the Republican candidate’s vision for our nation. There was cautious hope that the 113th Congress, which began this past January, could begin to address America’s most pressing priorities.
Unfortunately, the partisan bickering and legislative gridlock on Capitol Hill have not changed.
As we wait for the new House and Senate to fully reorganize themselves and put forth their full legislative agendas, and as we absorb the implications of the president’s state of the union address, the Brotherhood needs to consider our own priorities — priorities that may not be the ones we would choose but, in part, will be forced on us due to past Congressional action, and more importantly, inaction.
We convene in Washington a little later than normal this year, in May, for the 45th Annual LEAP Conference. This has posed a small challenge in developing our legislative priorities so early in the year. However, we do know generally where Congress may be heading and how we may want to position ourselves. The issues we will formally lobby on in May, described below, will be finalized in April.
CONGRESS HAS CONTINUED to kick the can down the road on the budget, and recent developments indicate more of the same. We have heard repeatedly about the need to deal with the deficit. There is some truth to that. If our deficit gets so large that servicing payments costs us more of our GDP and inhibits real growth, then, yes, we have a deficit problem.
But our main challenge right now is not the budget deficit — it is our jobs deficit. Those who are the loudest in advocating that we deal with the budget deficit before addressing any other pressing issue are using it as an excuse to gut many domestic programs including Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, and Social Security. And they don’t care that Social Security does not contribute to our budget deficit!
Unfortunately, instead of doing their jobs as legislators and negotiating in good faith to resolve our most pressing needs — job creation and real budget proposals — Congress instead came up with the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. The BCA imposed caps on discretionary programs that will reduce their funding by more than $1 trillion over the 10 years from 2012 through 2021. In addition to those caps, a “super committee” was supposed to produce legislation to reduce projected deficits by at least an additional $1.2 trillion through 2021. But on Nov. 21, 2011, the committee’s co-chairs announced they could not reach agreement. That failure triggered what is called “sequestration.”
Sequestration is a fall-back mechanism to ensure that $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction would be achieved if the super committee failed to reach a solution. The mechanism was intended to prod members of the committee to reach agreement. Failing to do so would trigger the following:
- automatic, across-the-board budget cuts in many programs in 2013; and
- reductions in each year from 2014 through 2021 in the annual caps on discretionary appropriations as well as automatic cuts in selected entitlement programs.
Apparently no one thought that the super committee would fail to reach an agreement, and so here we are, facing the automatic cuts in both defense and non-defense spending.
How will this affect the Boilermakers? If Congress does not avoid the automatic cuts that sequestration will impose as of March 2, 2013, the Navy will start to cancel $604 million of major maintenance on 23 warships, hiring freezes, furloughs and other work reductions — affecting ALL of the naval shipyards that employ Boilermakers and other skilled crafts.
Congress needs to approve a budget and avoid the devastating cuts that will be imposed as a result of their inaction. How we lobby on budget priorities and jobs in May will be determined by what Congress does or does not do during February/March with sequestration and if they can be convinced to not only pass a real budget but also take up a real jobs bill, such as the American Jobs Act, proposed by President Obama in 2011.
(If you would like more information on the budget and sequestration, please see: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at http://www.cbpp.org.)
Comprehensive Energy and Climate Change Policy
WE WILL REVISIT this issue at some point in 2013. Super storm Sandy and the devastation she wreaked along the East Coast last October has renewed calls for the United States to address its role in the development of clean energy and reducing its emissions linked to climate change.
In 2010, Abe Breehey, our late legislative director, summarized the energy challenges this way:
“The race for clean energy is on, and the United States is already falling behind our competitors, because our political system is paralyzed. That paralysis is costing us jobs as investors and utilities wait for a road map to a clean energy future. The time is now for Congress to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that invests in new technology, utilizes our vast energy resources, and puts a price on carbon that will spur innovation and jobs.”
Abe’s words are as true in 2013 as they were in 2010. Comprehensive energy legislation has fallen victim to the partisanship that has affected every other major policy discussion in Washington over the past four years.
The president renewed his intent to address climate change during his State of the Union address. It is clear the Environmental Protection Agency will continue to emphasize renewable energy and natural gas, while making it more difficult for current and future coal-fired energy production.
We will continue to fight for coal and the “all of the above” energy policy that President Obama articulated during his first term. We have been and will continue to be active participants in any discussions or proposals related to climate change, emissions reductions, and overall energy policy. We will continue to advocate for a rational path to energy independence in conjunction with legitimate and sensible environmental concerns.
Boilermakers understand that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at fossil-fired power plants and industrial facilities is not only a necessary solution to environmental challenges, it is also holds perhaps the best potential for significant employment opportunities for Boilermakers, both in the construction and manufacturing sectors.
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
DURING THE 2008 campaign, President Obama promised the American people a strong, smart, and fair trade policy. Unfortunately, in Oct. 2011, the Korea Free Trade Agreement — negotiated under President George W. Bush — was passed, along with trade agreements with Colombia and Peru. Now the administration is negotiating a “super” agreement with Pacific-rim countries that includes: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
The TPP will be the largest free trade agreement in the world. Leaks from the negotiations reveal the same problems labor has generally had with all of our so-called “free trade” agreements. Especially troubling, however, is the fact that negotiations have taken place behind closed doors. Since negotiations began in 2008, none of the negotiating documents have been officially released for public review, other than those leaked by labor-friendly participants of other negotiating countries.
In addition to this gross lack of transparency, other problems include:
- A potential limit on the ability of governments to regulate banks, hedge funds, and insurance companies (which could impact the ability of the United States to regulate Wall Street);
- Trading good-paying careers for sweatshop labor (such as that found in Vietnam); and
- Accelerating global warming in the name of profits by granting transnational corporations the power to challenge any environmental or consumer safety protections that negatively affect their profits as “regulatory takings” (aka “raid the U.S. Treasury for restitution”).
The Boilermakers will join with our other labor brothers and sisters to demand a “fair trade” agreement, not another NAFTA-style job drain.
CONGRESS NEEDS TO pursue a solution to our broken immigration system that is comprehensive and that puts workers first. Without reform, workers will continue to suffer at the hands of exploitive employers.
The Boilermakers support immigration reform that will create an independent process that is informed and not arbitrary in its assignment of visa numbers for legal entry, both temporary and permanent. Reform must include a plan for the operational control of our borders. It must implement a fair and efficient worker authorization and verification system. It must create a practical and humane system to adjust the status of unauthorized immigrants. And it must reform, but not expand, existing temporary worker programs, like H-2B.