U.S. labor leaders met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday, calling on him to reject deep cuts in pensions and health care for the elderly as he works to resolve crucial government financial issues by the end of the year.
Newly re-elected, Obama is turning this week toward a series of talks at the White House with union chiefs, corporate executives and congressional leaders about the country's looming "fiscal cliff." The financial precipice comprises $600 billion in mandated spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect January 1. They are contentious provisions the president and his Republican political opponents are seeking to avoid, but have been unable to reach agreement on for two years.
Major U.S. labor organizations lent vast funding and campaign support for Obama's re-election victory last week over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. They share the president's wish to increase taxes on the country's wealthiest households, those making more than $250,000 a year. It's a tax law change opposed by Obama's Republican opponents in Congress.
But the labor leaders are also seeking assurances from Obama that he will maintain current spending for the government pension and health care plans for the elderly. The extent of spending for the two social programs is likely to be a focal point of negotiations between the White House and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
After the meeting, Rich Trumka, president of the country's biggest federation of unions, the AFL-CIO, said Obama shares the labor movement's goal of treating workers fairly.
"Are we going to collectively stand up and ensure that workers get a fair shake in America? Absolutely. Do we believe that the president is committed to that same thing? Absolutely," said Trumka.
On Wednesday, Obama is planning a news conference, as well as talks with executives from some of America's largest corporations, such as General Electric and American Express. Many of the U.S.'s most prominent financial titans supported Mr. Romney in the campaign, but the president is hoping to enlist their support in persuading Republican lawmakers to vote for increasing taxes on the wealthiest families as part of what he has called a "balanced" plan of cutting spending and increasing government revenue.
The chief executives of 17 big U.S. companies have written lawmakers urging them to reach a compromise on the spending and tax issues.
Obama is meeting Friday with congressional leaders about how to resolve their long-standing stalemate. The president is leaving Washington Saturday on a four-day trip to Asia.