A combative Vice President Bush today accused AFL-CIO leaders of being politically biased in their opposition to President Reagan's economic program.
"I told them they were wrong to oppose us at every turn" on economic policy, Bush said after a one-hour meeting with most of the federation's 35 executive council members. "In terms of the whole program, they are wrong in opposing this president who is doing what he said he'd do."
"We're politically aware and we know that many of the leaders . . .were opposed to us in the first place," Bush said.
Federation President Lane Kirkland, in an equally combative mood, later called the administration's policies "Jonestown economics"--referring to the tragedy in Guyana in which more than 900 religious cultists committed suicide by drinking a cyanide-laced fruit drink.
The Reagan administration "has administered economic Kool-Aid to the poor, the deprived, and the unemployed of this country," Kirkland said after the meeting. "When you drive people out of work and when you cut their unemployment benefits and cut back Aid to Families with Dependent Children, it's destructive and harmful not only to this generation, but to future generations."
Kirkland said he had used the Jonestown analogy in the meeting with Bush.
Later, giving a speech in the Bal Harbour area, Bush accused Kirkland of using "flamboyant language" designed to "grab headlines."
Bush's meeting with the council members, at Kirkland's request, occurred one day after the federation's leaders unanimously approved a resolution offering "an alternative to Reaganomics" and condemning the administration's "job-destroying, tight-money, budget-slashing policies," which the federation said were creating the worst economic ills "since the great Depression."
The federation's alternative plan calls for a revival of public works programs, federal support of low- and middle-income housing construction projects, the use of federal loan guarantees and interest rate subsidies to help resuscitate dying industries, the imposition of domestic credit and import restrictions, and caps on income tax cuts for corporations and individuals. It is basically the same alternative the AFL-CIO offered in February, August and November of last year.
But in a new wrinkle this year, the federation leaders on Monday called for a "progressive surtax" on corporate and individual income to finance all future increases in defense spending, including the administration's proposed $33 billion rise in defense expenditures for fiscal 1983.
Bush rejected the federation's alternative again today, including the defense surtax, saying neither the administration nor the American people want tax increases.
The vice president, who came to the federation's annual midwinter meeting "to get more union support for the Reagan administration," said he believed the administration's programs of tax and spending cuts have worked to reduce interest rates and inflation, and should be given a chance. "I believe strongly in the Reagan economic program," he said.
What he got was more debate than support. Both Bush and Kirkland described the meeting as "spirited" and "aggressive."
Kirkland said the federation will work for the election of a Congress that might accept its economic alternative. The AFL-CIO has been working closely with the Democratic Party in an attempt to elect such a Congress this year, a point Bush noted in his meeting with the council members.
"He raised the question and sought to make an issue of the fact that some members of the council are members of an advisory committee to the Democratic National Committee," Kirkland said, referring to Bush's charges of political bias. Kirkland said that Bush accused the council of exercising "a degree of partisan bias that he suggested influenced our conclusions" about the Reagan administration's policies.
Kirkland said he disputed Bush's charge and told the vice president that the AFL-CIO "is prepared to walk through any doors that are opened to us." He said the federation would be willing to work with Republicans as hard as it is working with Democrats, but that the federation "has not found any doors opened within the Republican Party."