President Obama sought on Monday evening to assuage organized labor's misgivings about the health-care overhaul, even as several key union leaders warned that the bill's final outlines could severely dampen their enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket in this year's elections. . .
Three hours earlier, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a hard-edged speech at the National Press Club that discontent with the final bill, when combined with a general perception that Obama and Congress have been insufficiently populist in responding to the recession and financial crisis, could demoralize his members. The risk, he said, was a replay of the Democratic blowout in the 1994 elections, when, after the passage of NAFTA and other disappointments to unions, "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."
"Now, more than ever, we need the boldness and the clarity we saw in our president during the campaign in 2008," he said. . .
Organized labor played a crucial role in the 2008 election, turning out members in key states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania where many nonunion, working-class voters resisted Obama. Though Obama has pleased unions on several fronts, he has done little to push labor's biggest priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize. . .
Supporters argue that such a tax would slow the growth in health-care costs by shifting people into less generous plans, and that it would also lift wages. Opponents note that the tax will fall on many plans that are expensive not because they are lavish "Cadillac plans" but because of an employer's location or the age of its workforce.
Unions prefer the House approach, an income tax surcharge on families earning more than $1 million. . .
Richard Trumka's speech to the National Press Club had an interesting bit of added drama. The presiding officer demanded that he stop where he was and wrap up in no more than 30 seconds. in order to go into the planned Q & A section of his appearance. He refused to cut short his prepared remarks at the appointed time, making his main closing arguments, then answering questions.
Trumka is tough and smart and a skilled speaker, well prepared and good at impromptu interaction as well. He clearly was not threatening to try to obstruct the passage of a health care bill. What he was saying to the Democrats was that they must not take union votes for granted, come November, 2010.