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November 29. 2012 8:14PM

AFL-CIO opposes cuts to entitlements in deficit talks; would hurt many in Granite State

Proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would affect more than 94,000 children and 15,000 seniors in the Granite State, and should not be part of a deficit reduction deal, according to the state's largest labor organization, the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.

The group released an analysis Thursday, based on the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, widely known as Simpson-Bowles after its co-chairmen Erskine B. Bowles, President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, and former Republican Senator Alan K. Simpson.

Bowles met Wednesday with House Speaker John Boehner to help Republicans promote proposals to cut entitlements during deficit reduction negotiations.

Such a move would be a major setback for thousands of New Hampshire residents, according to Nora Frederickson, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO in New Hampshire.

"This is part of an ongoing effort by the labor movement as a whole to educate people about aspects of this debate that haven't been covered so widely in the press," she said.

The Simpson-Bowles recommendations are not necessarily going to be implemented as part of a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, but they are the basis for much of the negotiations under way. The plan calls for cuts to Social Security cost-of-living adjustments, increases in the retirement age, and cutting the basic benefit formula. The plan would also increase the Medicare eligibility age.

"We need to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits and other important programs that support our working families," said New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie, pointing out that the three programs combined deliver $6.6 billion to the state's economy every year.

"Increasing the Medicare eligibility age would substantially increase overall health-care costs, with the burden falling on individuals, employers and state governments," he said.

If Simpson-Bowles recommendations for Social Security are fully phased in for future retirees, medium-income earners would see benefits reduced by nearly 20 percent compared to today, according to the report.

Most of the changes under consideration would not apply to anyone 55 or older, but that's not the point, Frederickson said. "We represent not just retirees or people close to retirement," she said. "We also represent younger workers, and we are concerned about the alternative solutions for these younger workers. What options will they have if we cut back on these programs? I don't believe that's a question that's been satisfactorily answered."

Frederickson said the report is designed to provide some balance to the "everything on the table" focus of groups like the Campaign to Fix The Debt.

"The group Fix the Debt has been very active here, and has presented arguments for putting all these programs on the table," she said. "We're a little worried about that because if you look at the contributors and the people who are funding this initiative in New Hampshire, even though it has the backing of some very well-meaning people, it's clear that the people funding these groups are the same people who funded right-to-work. We're talking about corporate groups who want to push an agenda that does not necessarily correspond to what is happening in the state."

After a long honeymoon with the media, Campaign to Fix the Debt has started to draw some critical scrutiny. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the organization has an ongoing problem: "convincing skeptics that it represents more than the self-interest of its chief executive members, whose companies have provided nearly all of the group's $43? million budget."

Dawn Wivell, a member of the state Steering Committee for Fix the Debt, said the group has no goal except to restore confidence to financial markets and avoid a recession through compromise. The recently retired director of the state's International Trade Resource Center, now an international business development consultant, joined several business leaders at a recent press conference for Fix the Debt in Manchester.

"We are advocating that everything be on the table," she said. "We are not advocating any particular cuts or any particular plan. It's a very simple message that we look at everything because that's the only way you can go about coming up with a compromise that will work."

Wivell said the organization is comprised of people from all walks of life, and benefits from many small individual donations as well as large corporate contributions.

"This is about getting our economy going and not being pushed into a horrible recession," she said.
dsolomon@unionleader.com



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