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President Obama met with labor leaders and other prominent members of the progressive movement at the White House on Tuesday as his first step to prevent America from going over what Ben Bernanke has called “the fiscal cliff.” The Bush tax breaks are set to expire at the end of this year just as trillions in automatic spending cuts are scheduled to begin.

Heads of the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, National Education Association and Service Employees International Union, along with representatives from MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress — all allies from the president’s 2012 campaign — presented their views on the forthcoming budget battle.

The president didn’t comment after the 2-hour session, but the participants reported that they were pleased with the his commitment to end the Bush tax breaks for the rich.

“It was a very, very positive meeting,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “We are very, very committed to making sure that the middle class and workers don’t end up paying the tab for a party that we didn’t get to go to, and the president is committed to that as well.”

The AFL-CIO released a Hart Research study today that showed that while voters are committed to asking the rich to pay more taxes, the public opposes cuts to Medicare and Social Security by a margin of 3 to 1. The president has vowed to veto any deal that does not ask the richest 2 percent of Americans to shoulder a tax burden similar to what they paid during the Clinton administration.

Next, the president meets with members of the business community. In addition to the expiring tax cuts, trillions in automatic spending cuts known as the sequester are set to begin in 2013 as the result of the deal forged when the GOP refused to raise the debt limit without significant spending cuts in the summer of 2011.

Analysts including the Congressional Budget Office project that the country would go into a recession if the spending cuts begin and tax breaks expire as planned. Economist John K. Galbraith, however, calls this a “phony crisis” that’s merely a pretense to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the GOP was willing to offer “new revenue” in exchange for real entitlement reform. Republicans are in favor of tax reform that would lower rates and cut deductions. However, most of the new revenue that they project from such reforms comes from “dynamic scoring,” which projects growth as a result of such reforms. Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, meanwhile, wrote that the best way to raise revenue on the rich is to simply return to the Clinton-era tax rate for the rich.

The president just won an electoral landslide, becoming the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to win two terms with more than 50 percent of the popular vote. In addition, a new Washington Post/PEW poll suggests that the voters trust him to negotiate — 53 percent think Republicans would be to blame if the country goes over the “fiscal cliff.” Only 29 percent say they’d blame the president.

“What we’re going to do is keep our members mobilized and organized in different communities across the country,” AFSCME president Lee Saunders said. “We won the election, but we’re going into another campaign now.”

Photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

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