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Union ads take new tack: praising GOP members

By Matea Gold, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — Labor unions seeking a fiscal solution that protects entitlement programs and raises taxes on the rich are trying the carrot approach before taking the stick to lawmakers.

A new six-figure ad campaign backed by three major unions includes radio spots praising four Republican House members as “leaders willing to put people ahead of partisan politics.”

“There’s a debate going on in Washington about the best way to move the country forward and reduce the deficit,” says a female narrator over upbeat music. “But there’s one thing that both parties can agree on: We shouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class.”

The radio commercials, which will air four days over the Thanksgiving holiday, are running in the districts of Pennsylvania’s Patrick Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick, Alaska’s Don Young and Missouri’s Jo Ann Emerson. They are being paid for by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union and the National Education Association.

Union officials said the four GOP House members were selected because they were among those who signed a bipartisan letter this summer calling for a balanced budget deal that considers both cuts and new forms of revenue.

“We need to work with Republicans who in many cases are our friends … who have shown a willingness to put people ahead of party politics,” said Mary Kusler, the NEA’s director of government relations.

The new campaign, which labor leaders called their “opening salvo,” also includes a new television ad targeting five Senate Democrats: Colorado’s Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, Virginia’s Jim Webb and Mark Warner and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill.

The commercials call on the lawmakers “to stand up for us by investing in job creation, extending the middle class tax cuts, and protecting Medicare, Medicaid and education from cuts.”

The labor unions also released a poll showing that voters overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Social Security or Medicare.

Lawmakers who seek a budget deal through cuts to those programs “do so at their political peril,” said pollster Mark Mellman.

But union leaders acknowledged that they have not received any assurances from the White House or Senate Democrats that such cuts are off the table.

“That’s exactly our fear in this situation and what is driving our membership,” Kusler said.

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