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'End the Shutdown,' AFL-CIO, U.S. Chamber Urge in Rare Joint Letter to Obama, Congress

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
By Ben Penn

Oct. 15 --Making an exception in a long history of disagreements, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce partnered in an Oct. 11 letter to ask President Barack Obama and members of Congress to reach a resolution to reopen the government and avoid a default.

“While we may disagree on priorities for federal policies and we even have conflicting views about many issues, we are in complete agreement that the current shutdown is harmful and the risk of default is potentially catastrophic for our fragile economy,” wrote AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka; Thomas Donahue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Stacey Stewart, U.S. president of United Way Worldwide.

Framed as coming from a partnership of business, labor and the nonprofit sector, the letter--without blaming a particular political party or individual for the shutdown--cited ongoing damage to the workforce, small and large businesses and people relying on public and privately-funded social services. The damage in all of these areas will worsen “the longer the shutdown continues,” possibly leading to another recession, the writers said.

As of late Oct. 15, the 15th day of the shutdown and two days before the Treasury Department said the debt ceiling will be reached, the House was planning to vote on a continuing resolution that would restore government funding and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7, but only fund federal agencies through Dec. 15.

The letter from the groups didn't make any specific recommendations on congressional measures to end the shutdown. Instead, the writers asked for Obama and Congress to “turn to normal processes our government has for resolving these issues.”

However, in an Oct. 1 statement released solely by the AFL-CIO, Trumka sided with the President and against Republicans. “We stand with President Obama as he rejects unequivocally all Republican hostage taking. And we agree with the President that it would be a disastrous precedent for our democracy if we have any negotiations over the debt ceiling,” Trumka said.

Letter Not the First Case of Groups Working in Unity

Although the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce have been on opposite ends of the debate on such ongoing policies as the Securities and Exchange Commission's proposal to require public companies to disclose the ratio of their employees' median pay to that of their chief executive officers and protests about wages at Wal-Mart , the Oct. 11 letter did not mark the groups' sole partnership.

“In the past we have partnered with the Chamber on issues including job creation and infrastructure, so this isn't the first time we ignored our differing policy views to talk about issues that are important to the country's greater good,” AFL-CIO spokeswoman Amaya Smith told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 15.

For instance, on March 30 the groups announced an agreement in principle on the flow of immigrants to be included in the Senate's eventual immigration bill.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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