AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, said he’s optimistic President Barack Obama will propose a multitrillion-dollar job-creation program next week.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, who joins us here in the studio. Thank you so much for being with us on the eve of Labor Day, Mr. President.
RICHARD TRUMKA, PRESIDENT, AFL-CIO: Al, thanks for having me on, and happy Labor Day.
HUNT: Well, happy Labor Day to you. You didn’t have a very happy Labor Day on Friday, when those jobs numbers came out. No growth at all. This recovery looks like it’s over.
TRUMKA: It really is. It’s starting to fizzle. It’s what we’ve been saying. You can’t focus on cut, cut, cut and manufacturing a debt crisis and not do anything to create jobs or spur the economy and expect this thing to grow.
So we’re disappointed, but the consequences of the pretty radical political games that have been played up here, particularly in the House of Representatives, are starting to come home to roost right now.
HUNT: Well, it’s going to be joined next week, when the president is going to address a joint session of Congress about jobs. We know the AFL-CIO wants a $4 trillion infrastructure among - program, among other things. Now, you’re not going to get all that. You know that. But the president is going to propose something on infrastructure, something on taxes, something on U.I.
But tell me, what will delineate whether it’s just sort of business as usual and routine or ambitious? What do you need to see from him specifically that makes it bold?
TRUMKA: Size, scale and determination.
HUNT: How big?
TRUMKA: Well, it has to be big enough to hit the problem. And, look, when you said the AFL-CIO wants a $4 trillion program, that’s not me. The American Society of Civil Engineers say that, on old infrastructure, we have a $2.2 trillion deficit. On new infrastructure - that’s stuff to get us into the 21st century - smart grid, the high-speed rail, we need another $2 trillion. So it has to be something on the scale to get us at that level.
HUNT: So it has to be, what, at least, say, $2.5 trillion, $3 trillion at least?
TRUMKA: Oh, no. We’re talking about over 10 years.
TRUMKA: So if you’re looking at $400 billion over a year for a number of years, that gets us in the ballpark. Because, look, the longer we wait, Al, to correct the infrastructure that’s decaying right now, the more difficult, costly, and less competitive as a nation we become.
HUNT: Just to make sure. Anything less than $4 trillion would be disappointing to you then?
TRUMKA: Well, we’re talking about over 10 years.
HUNT: Over 10 years, that’s what I mean.
TRUMKA: Yeah, so I said about $400 billion -
HUNT: And that would be disappointing if it’s less than that?
TRUMKA: Well, we’re looking at that. That’s the program that needs to be. But that’s not the only thing, infrastructure. There has to be other components to it. So you could have a little less here and a little more here. You need to have five or six components in it. One, you have to - you have to do infrastructure.
TRUMKA: And that has to be done. The surface transportation reauthorization, the FAA, clean water, all of those things.
HUNT: Any tax? Do you want any tax measures at all?
TRUMKA: Well, there has to be revenue increases down the road, if you’re -
HUNT: But I’m talking about tax - anything, job- producing tax credits or write-offs now?
TRUMKA: Well, some of those things help around the edges, but they don’t -
HUNT: But they’re not the big deal?
TRUMKA: They don’t create the - and give you the economic activity and do a job creation. Think about this. You’re not hiring a worker. Somebody says I’ll give you a 2 percent cut on the tax you pay on that worker, you’re automatically going to hire a bunch of workers. It will help. It has to be with other things, that’s what I’m saying. There’s a number of things that have to come together.
HUNT: You talked earlier about all the hassling over deficits and cuts. The president’s been right in the middle of that. Why do you have any confidence he’s going to deliver now, when he hasn’t all year?
TRUMKA: I think he understands what the real problem is right now.
HUNT: When did that - when did that happen? When did he change?
TRUMKA: I think he’s understood that all along. I don’t think it’s a new revelation. I think he tried. He tried with the stimulus package. The Republicans wouldn’t go with it on the size it needed to be. He tried with other things. They won’t do anything.
Their idea is to cut, cut, cut, cut. And you can’t get there by cutting. We really do need to create jobs. You want to eliminate the deficit, Al? Create jobs and the deficit goes away.
HUNT: President Trumka, you know bargaining. How would you rate Barack Obama as a negotiator?
TRUMKA: I’d say he needs to take another course in bargaining to help out. All of us can use - to have our - stand to have our skills increased, including me. That would include him, too.
HUNT: So you would - you would send him back to school on bargaining?
TRUMKA: I’d go with him.
HUNT: Let me ask you about two political predicates. One is that Obama has dispirited the base, that - particularly working-class Democrats - with a lack of focus on jobs and a compelling policy. The other is that, hey, with Rick Perry or Mitt Romney, hey, he’s home-free, that automatically energizes the Democratic base. Which is closer to the truth?
TRUMKA: I think some of the things he’s done have caused a dampening the spirit of the base. But I don’t think you could take either Mitt Romney or Rick Perry for granted. I would say that you still have to run a campaign. And he has to do what he needs to do.
Look, American workers, whether they’re union or not union, are looking for leadership. They don’t want talk. They don’t want excuses. They don’t want bipartisan crap. They want somebody that’ll stand up and say, “Here’s the problem. This is what it’ll take to fix it. And I’m going to fight for that.”
HUNT: Do you think he’ll - do you think he’ll be bold next Thursday?
TRUMKA: I do.
HUNT: You do?
TRUMKA: I do.
HUNT: So you’re really optimistic about it?
TRUMKA: I am optimistic about it. I’m hoping that he’ll be very bold. He’ll stand up for the American worker and say: This is what needs to be done to fix the problem, and I’m going to fight for it.
HUNT: You’re setting up a super PAC. Are all the other unions participating now? How much do you expect to raise? And are you going to give to other Democratic political action committees?
TRUMKA: Here’s what we’re doing. In the past, we’ve built a structure six months, nine months before the election. And on Election Day, we dismantled it. Now we’re going to build a structure that stays in place 12 months a year, every year. And in between elections, we will continue to expand and reach out and bring allies and friends into that.
HUNT: Will you give to other Democratic PACs? Are you going to just -
TRUMKA: Our - our PAC is going to be used to create the structure for working people.
HUNT: So that’s where all your money is going to go?
TRUMKA: That’s exactly where it’s going to go.
HUNT: So it’s not going to go into other PACs?
TRUMKA: It’s going to build a PAC for working people -
HUNT: But I’m right. It’s not - you’re not going to be given other PACs?
TRUMKA: That will speak to union and non-union workers out there. That’s what it will do.
HUNT: Can you envision next year - I know you’re not going to support Democrats who haven’t supported labor. Have you figured out - have you blackballed any specific Democrat yet? And can you imagine any Republican in a Senate or governor’s race that you would give to next year?
TRUMKA: Well, look, we don’t - I don’t make those decisions. Everybody thinks I sit down there and make all the decisions.
HUNT: But you have some influence.
TRUMKA: Well, I do have some influence, but the decisions actually get made in the states on the reps in that state. And so we’ll sit down with our state people, our rank-and-file, make those decisions, see if they get the requisite amount of support. Are there Republicans that we can support? You bet. There’s Republicans in Ohio that stood up with us in the fight against Kasich.
HUNT: State legislators, right?
TRUMKA: We’ll be standing -
HUNT: But no statewide candidate that you see now for governor or for senator?
TRUMKA: None jumps to mind.
HUNT: None jumps to mind. Charlie Cook says that you’ve had to devote so many resources to fending off Republican efforts to emasculate unions in places like Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey, that that’s going to siphon off money for engagement in congressional and presidential elections.
TRUMKA: Well, it doesn’t help. But here’s what it did do. It energized our base.
TRUMKA: And after Rick Scott attacked us in Wisconsin, we were going to -
HUNT: Rick Scott in Florida.
TRUMKA: Sorry -
HUNT: Scott Walker in -
TRUMKA: Scott Walker, excuse me, thank you. Scott Walker - how could I ever confuse those two? Scott Walker attacked the workers out there. We organized nine new hospitals. We brought 30,000 new members into working America. We have 10 unions in there right now that are organizing. We’re going to come out of that fight a lot bigger and a lot stronger than we went into it.
HUNT: You like your enemies. Let me ask you this. Labor is unhappy with the selection of Charlotte for the Democratic convention. It’s a non-union town. In the past, not the last couple conventions, but in the past, you’ve been a delegate, I think from Pennsylvania. Are you going to be a delegate in Charlotte next year?
TRUMKA: I don’t know.
HUNT: What do you think?
TRUMKA: We’ll have to see. I don’t know the answer to that yet. If I do, I’ll have to run like everybody else.
TRUMKA: And we’ll see if we do that. We haven’t made a decision. Some unions will participate. Some won’t.
HUNT: But you’re going to be in Charlotte one way or - whether you’re a delegate or not?
TRUMKA: I haven’t made that decision yet.
HUNT: You haven’t made your mind up yet?
HUNT: All right. Well, we’ll be - when you do, will you tell us?
TRUMKA: Oh, sure. Absolutely.
HUNT: President -
TRUMKA: I’ll send that over to you. “Hey, Al.”
HUNT: President Trumka, very, very happy Labor Day to you. Thank you for being here.
TRUMKA: Happy Labor Day to you, buddy.
HUNT: Thank you, sir. And when we come back, pressure mounts on the president’s jobs speech, and the White House and speaker play tug-of-war for primetime spotlight. Bloomberg reporters are next.
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