|COURTING THE VOTERS|
September 2, 1996
Big Labor is throwing its still-considerable weight behind the Democrats in 1996. Will it be enough to help them retake Congress? Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: Organized labor was much in evidence last week at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and an aggressive effort is underway nationwide to promote labor's interests throughout the campaign season. Among other activities, the AFL-CIO will spend $35 million on a television and organizing campaign targeting those Republican members of Congress it considers vulnerable in the upcoming elections.
For instance, this first ad we'll see is aimed at Frank Riggs, a second-term Republican from California.
ANNOUNCER: (ad) Congressman Frank Riggs voted to cut our Medicare benefits. Frank Riggs knows it, and so do we. Fact: On November 17, 1995, Riggs voted with Newt Gingrich to cut $270 billion from Medicare funding, while voting for tax breaks for the wealthy. Now, he's trying to deny it. Tell Frank Riggs we know the truth about his vote to cut our Medicare benefits. Another vote is coming. This time, we'll be watching.
KWAME HOLMAN: And there is a concerted effort to respond to the attacks on Republican candidates for their positions on issues such as Medicare. This next ad supporting North Carolina freshman Fred Heineman was paid for by the state Republican Party.
WOMAN: (ad) I couldn't survive without Medicare.
AD SPOKESMAN: A bipartisan commission has found Medicare will go broke in only five years.
WOMAN: We can't let that happen.
AD SPOKESMAN: That's why Fred Heineman voted for the Republican plan to save Medicare while increasing benefits 7 percent a year.
WOMAN: So benefits would go up.
AD SPOKESMAN: A total of $2300 per senior. And you can even keep your own doctor, or choose a new one.
WOMAN: Sounds like a reasonable way to save Medicare to me.
AD SPOKESMAN: Fred Heineman agrees. Tell him to keep fighting to save Medicare from bankruptcy.
|Looking at the issues|
KWAME HOLMAN: Now to discuss the issues involved in the labor movement's political efforts joining us are Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and Rep. Pete Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, and a member of the House Committee with jurisdiction over labor issues. First to you, Mr. Trumka. Much has been written about this $35 million expenditure by labor. Whom are you targeting and why?
RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO: Well, first of all, let me say Happy Labor Day to you--
KWAME HOLMAN: Thank you.
RICHARD TRUMKA: --and to all your listeners. Look, American workers are under attack like they've never been under attack before. Corporate profits are up. CEO's salaries are up. The stock market is up, and our wages are down. Our members told us to respond like we've never responded before. They said tell us who's voting against us, who's voting against us on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, who's voting against us on student loans; the minimum wage, all of those things. They said to us, give us the information so we can make informed decisions about our economic future. That's precisely what we're doing with our campaign.
KWAME HOLMAN: Let me go to Congressman Hoekstra in Michigan and ask what--what do you think of these ads, Congressman?
REP. PETER HOEKSTRA, (R) Michigan: (Grand Rapids) Well, I think the ads say a lot about where the labor union bosses are in Washington here in 1996. On Labor Day 1996, they're out of touch with their union membership. Republicans are going to run on their record. We fought for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The labor union bosses in Washington, they fought us. We passed the line item veto. We made all laws apply to Congress. We passed $53 billion in spending reductions this year. We're trying to give the American workers a tax break. Here we are on Labor Day 1996 and American workers, whether they're organized or unorganized, they find themselves having more in common with a Republican Congress than they do with their own union leadership in Washington.
KWAME HOLMAN: Congressman, let me ask you about the--as we just saw--they both talked about Medicare, one accused--the union had accused Republicans of wanting to cut Medicare. The Republican Party had said that was not the case. How can people distinguish what really is going on here, and do you think that those ads in response are a good idea?
REP. HOEKSTRA: Sure. I think the ads in response are an excellent idea. I think we are--we have to work very effectively at getting our message out. I think the interesting thing is that there have been a number of stations around the country, TV stations, radio stations, who have taken a look at the AFL-CIO ads and said these are a blatant misrepresentation of the facts, we're not going to run them. So I think our running a response, our getting the accurate message out of exactly what we're doing in a common sense way to bring accountability and responsibility to Washington is exactly what we need to be doing, and we're going to continue doing it for the next 60 days.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Trumka, the Congressman is right, isn't he, that the people have had questions about, for example, the charges on cutting Medicare? There's been a lot of debate, what's a cut, what's a reduction in the rate of growth. Do you think your Medicare ad is accurate, honest?
RICHARD TRUMKA: Absolutely. Let's talk about that precisely. Here's what they intended to do. Pete wanted to work with Newt Gingrich to let Medicare wither and die on the vine. He says they tried to save Medicare. They didn't come up with that until there was a public outcry. Here's the true facts, and he can try to refute these if he chooses. Before his proposed bill, seniors would have paid for 25 percent of Medicare. After his bill, they would pay for 32 percent of Medicare. Before his bill--or after his bill, seniors would have been paying over the next several years $400 more out of their pocket than they would before his bill.
Now at least--at least Pete was upright about and up-front about trying to muzzle us, trying to get us not to be able to share a point of view. He offered a bill in the House last year that would have allowed the NRA and the National Chamber of Commerce and a number of other entities to talk to American workers at the work place and then deny us the same right. That's precisely what they tried to do here. They tried to muzzle us. They tried to get stations not to run those ads. They ran those ads, and if we're so out of touch with labor, why are they so riled up? Why are they responding so viciously?
|Who has the advantage?|
KWAME HOLMAN: Congressman, before you respond to the, to the bill, do you accept Mr. Trumka's numbers on Medicare?
REP. HOEKSTRA: Federal government spending for Medicare, we're going to go up per person from $4800 to $7100 by the end of the five or six year plan to save Medicare. That's a significant increase, plus we provided a whole lot of alternatives for seniors to start making selections about how to get the best kind of health care coverage for themselves in their specific geographic area. What Mr. Trumka wants to do, what the labor unions want to do, what the big government Democrats in Washington want to do, is they want to maintain centralized control, a centralized bureaucracy. We want to empower American seniors, American workers, to have more control over their lives, over their dollars, and to move forward without these bureaucracies in the way.
KWAME HOLMAN: Thank you, Congressman. Maybe we could leave the Medicare issue and go on to the overall question of the effectiveness of this resurgence of labor unions. One of your pollsters, Republican pollster Frank Luntz, said that the approval ratings for labor unions are going up, these ads were thought to be effective against Republican moderates. Do you feel that that is the case, and that this is something you have to respond to?
REP. HOEKSTRA: Sure. I think in any election, the key is getting out accurate information about what you've done and where you want to go to the future. I think the, the intent here is--I think this says more about where the labor unions are today, that they believe that they have to spend $35 million to reconnect with their membership. In the long run, the policies that we're promoting are the policies that average American citizens can identify with and will support when they go to the polls.
KWAME HOLMAN: Would you agree, Mr. Trumka, that who has--who's right and who has the average American with him on this?
RICHARD TRUMKA: Look, I think we speak on behalf of working Americans, all working Americans, whether unionized or not. We fought for a raise in the minimum wage. Pete voted against that raise six times before he finally voted for it. We, we stopped them from letting Medicare wither and die on the vine. We spoke for--we speak for the American worker. Look, a year ago, they were telling us we were irrelevant. When we were spending our moneys--our member's money, being irrelevant, they never said a thing. When our members told us to educate them on the issues and we started blowing the whistle on these guys so that they couldn't vote in the dark, vote six times against the minimum wage increase and then once at the end, when his vote meant nothing, and then say I'm for an increase in the minimum wage, we think we're on the right track. Our membership tells us we're on the right track, and by better than 90 percent they've said to us, look, give us the facts, we want to have the facts so that we can go into the polls in November and vote as workers.
KWAME HOLMAN: A quick response, Congressman, in the few seconds we have left.
REP. HOEKSTRA: I'm looking forward to going into November. I think we've got the issues. Mr. Trumka thinks that he does. Let's take a look but, Rich, let's take a look and let's make sure that we present the facts accurately to the American people. Let's not go back to the distortion that many media have described as lies and deception, was what you've been doing with Medicare. Let's go forward with an accurate presentation.
RICHARD TRUMKA: Pete, I couldn't agree with you more, but no media that I know said there were lies or distortions. They ran the ads. And I'd agree with you, Pete, let's go and talk about the issues. Let's not attack the First Lady; let's not attack the President's family; let's go with the issues. We think the American worker, when given the facts, will participate more effectively in the election process. That's good for the country. That's good for democracy, and Pete and I both win.
KWAME HOLMAN: Well, we'll keep following. Thank you both, gentlemen, for coming in.
RICHARD TRUMKA: Thank you.
REP. HOEKSTRA: Thank you.