(CNSNews.com) – Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern said he was open to serving on President Barack Obama’s proposed deficit reduction commission, after it was reported that the White House was considering him for the post. He was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday advocating for additional deficit spending to stimulate job creation.
“I’d be honored, if I was asked,” Stern told CNSNews.com, “but I don’t know anything more than you’ve been able to read.”
Stern, who runs one of the largest unions in the nation, has come under scrutiny for being a close ally of the Obama White House.
When the White House released its visitor logs last October, Stern was found to be the most frequent guest, stopping by 22 times—more than advisor John Podesta or former Majority Leader Tom Daschle—to visit Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, budget chief Pete Orszag, and seven times, President Obama.
As CNSNews.com previously reported, the group Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) has requested that the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Channing D. Phillips, investigate Stern for the visits. ATR President Grover Norquist said in a letter that he was concerned the visits could constitute lobbying, in violation of the Lobbying Disclosure Act, since Stern is not registered as a lobbyist. (The key question here would be whether Stern spent 20 percent of his work time in a quarterly period lobbying lawmakers. The SEIU has rejected an allegation of impropriety.)
Stern said Tuesday he expected he would be able to remain in charge of the SEIU while serving on the commission. “Yeah,” he said, “I think it’s—the members of Congress are serving. I assume they’re not giving up their positions. I have no intentions of giving up mine.”
While Stern may be headed for the deficit commission, which President Obama has said he plans to create by executive order, he was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to advocate for more stimulus spending before the House Financial Services Committee.
Stern said he agreed with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman that “the aftermath of a severe financial crisis” calls for more deficit spending.
“We still need to act,” he told committee members, explaining that states needed help resolving their budget crises.
“States alone will confront an estimated $100 billion gap for the coming fiscal year,” said Stern. “Without further federal aid, the actions states will have to take to close the budget gap could cost the economy another 900,000 jobs—jobs of teachers and firefighters—and also make painful cuts at a time when people need help the most.”
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) told Stern he could not believe the panel was pushing for more spending after the first stimulus apparently was a failure, in his view. “There’s an aspect of, frankly, generational theft here,” said Hensarling.
“I mean, borrowing from future generations, robbing future GDP growth to try to promote current GDP growth,” Hensarling said. “I mean, at some point, do you ask yourself, is this really fair to future generations?”
He continued, “I see that my time is drawing near, so I will ask a question, and that is: Mr. Stern, you said we need more deficit spending. Let me ask you the question: Is there any level of deficit spending that you would not accept?
“Are you at least troubled by the aspect that perhaps future members of your union may have to pay for this debt with fewer jobs?” said Hensarling.
Stern admitted he was “absolutely” concerned about the national debt in the long term, but thought spending was justified in the short term.
“I am absolutely concerned about the long-term economic stability of this country, including the deficit,” said Stern. “I don’t, however, think there’s any way out of this situation without job growth and wage growth. I don’t think we can cut, borrow, or spend our way out until we have Americans back at work and gaining raises.”