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Labor Ups the Pressure on GOP Centrists Ahead of July Session


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The Hill:

Labor ups the pressure on GOP centrists ahead of July session
By Alexander Bolton - 07/10/10 06:00 AM ET

The nation’s leading public-sector employees union will launch a newspaper advertising campaign this weekend to pressure centrist Senate Republicans to support increased federal aid to states.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will spend $175,000 on newspaper ads targeting Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe ® and Susan Collins ® and Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

The union is bracing for a major cut in public-sector jobs over the next year as states and cities scramble to balance their budgets. Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com, predicted earlier this week that as many as 400,000 workers could lose their jobs in the next year.

AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee is warning centrist Republicans that blocking increased aid to states will add to the federal deficit as unemployment rises.

“The GOP filibuster of the jobs bill means more pain for working families, more debt and a prolonged recession. We’re telling senators that it’s time to stop the obstruction. It’s time to pass the jobs bill!” McEntee said in a statement Friday.

The ads will run in The Sentinel and Enterprise and The MetroWest Daily News in Massachusetts; The Portland Press Herald, The Kennebec Journal and the Bangor Daily News in Maine; and The Plain Dealer in Ohio.

Every single Senate Republican (except for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was absent) voted on June 24 to filibuster a $15 billion increase in federal Medicaid assistance to states. Republican opposition forced Democrats to whittle the size of proposed Medicaid assistance down from $24 billion.

The proposal to provide $24 billion in Medicaid assistance would have saved Massachusetts about $700 million in budget cuts, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research institute based in Washington.

The alternative plan to provide $15 billion would have saved Maine from making $86 million in budget cuts and would have been worth $492 million to Ohio’s state government.

“We estimate that if no additional fiscal aid is forthcoming, the massive shortfalls that states will be forced to close could result in as many as 900,000 jobs lost,” said Mike Leachman, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “We’re talking about teachers being laid off and healthcare workers and others.”

Before Congress left for the July 4 recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dropped the Medicaid provision from a package of unemployment benefits and assistance to homebuyers. But Republicans blocked that proposal as well.

Brown acknowledged that the state assistance is important to Massachusetts but added “we need to find a way to pay for [it].”

“The federal government is clearly addicted to debt and wants to raise taxes on Americans during a time when we can least afford it. This bill was defeated in a bipartisan manner,” Brown said in a video statement posted on his website.

Brown has introduced his own proposal to extend unemployment benefits and cover state budget shortfalls. The deficit-neutral legislation would be paid for largely with un-obligated funds from the 2009 federal stimulus package.

Labor officials have dismissed Brown’s proposal as “robbing Peter to pay Paul” because the stimulus program was designed to spur job creation. Labor sources believe Brown’s action shows he’s feeling political heat over the state funding issue.

An aide to Snowe said her boss supports increasing Medicaid assistance but does not want it to add to the record $13 trillion national debt.

“Senator Snowe has been a consistent advocate for FMAP and will continue to do so,” said Snowe spokesman Julia Lawless, using an acronym for the state funding proposal. “Lest we add to the burgeoning deficits to be paid for by future generations, FMAP spending must be offset by spending reductions elsewhere.”

Other groups have put pressure on Snowe, Collins, Brown and Voinovich.

Americans United for Change, an advocacy group funded by AFSCME and the Service Employees International Union, has organized 30,000 calls targeting those lawmakers and 38 House lawmakers in the past month.

AFSCME and Americans United for Change also launched a $100,000 television ad campaign at the end of June pressuring Snowe and Collins to support Democratic jobs legislation including state Medicaid assistance.

The AFL-CIO organized a 200-person rally in Portland on June 30 press Snowe and Collins to support the bill. The union organized a rally outside one of Brown’s offices on the same day.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said Reid would make another attempt to pass funding for state governments before the August recess.

“We hope to again consider assistance to states (FMAP) in the coming weeks so that states do not have to lay-off more workers and businesses and taxpayers don't see their taxes increased in a recession,” said Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle.
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