Labor and President Obama haven’t always seen to eye. But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says he couldn’t be happier with the way the campaign is shaping up.
“I think the president’s making the case right now that he should be making — that this is about two different types of economy,” Trumka told reporters Thursday at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
It wasn’t always this way. After Republicans took over the House in 2010, the White House pivoted to deficit reduction, agreeing to major spending cuts as the GOP threatened to shut down the government — or worse. Trumka and other labor officials were put off by the new emphasis on trimming government and warned it was a political as well as economically dangerous.
But last year, with the recovery unexpectedly slowing down and Democrats convinced there was no overcoming the Republican Party’s anti-tax fervor, Obama launched a new legislative push for the American Jobs Act, a bill designed to stimulate the economy with tax cuts, relief for state government and infrastructure investments.
“I don’t want to say ‘I told you so,’ but last Labor Day he started talking about jobs and the economy and creating jobs and a different vision, and he’s not let up since then,” Trumka said.
Trumka particularly enthused by the president’s attacks on Romney’s taxes, which he said were an important symbolic issue that went beyond whatever the tax returns might reveal.
“It’s not just about transparency, it’s about Mitt Romney,” he said. “It’s about him saying ‘I’m special, I don’t have to play by the rules, every other candidate has to give their tax returns, I don’t have to.’”
As for labor’s role in the election, Trumka said that they would concentrate their resources on grassroots turnout efforts instead of ads, hoping to overcome an expected cash advantage from big-money conservative groups by utilizing as many as 400,000 volunteers, many with organizing experience. They also will be able to legally reach out to non-union members for the first time, thanks to the Supreme Court’s loosening of various electioneering restrictions.
“They’ll be doing the airwaves,” he said of Republicans. “We’ll be doing the ground.”
While Trumka sounded confident about the presidential election, Mike Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director, suggested that the House may be a bridge too far. While polls show Congress, including House Republicans, at historically toxic levels of unpopularity, he suggested that an “extraordinary amount of spending” from outside groups will give Republicans a buffer.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.