More than 40 labor unions and other progressive organizations with combined membership of millions launched a grassroots drive March 4 to push for enactment of President Obama’s $3.55 trillion 2010 federal budget in the face of stubborn resistance from the Republican right and a handful of conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

The coalition released a joint statement in Washington titled “Rebuild and Renew America Now” that hails the Obama package as “a visionary blueprint that turns away from the failed economic policies of the past and seeks to invest in our future by expanding opportunities for all.”

Obama’s budget, the coalition points out, commits $634 billion to a health care reserve fund, more than $100 billion to clean energy and “green jobs” and another $100 billion in federal aid to education. It would repeal tax giveaways to those earning above $250,000 annually while giving tax relief to the 95 percent of taxpayers who earn less. It would terminate many obsolete Cold War weapons programs.

It also dramatically increases funding for safety-net programs like extended unemployment compensation, food stamps, other nutrition programs and fuel assistance for the poor and unemployed.

“It is our firm belief that if these priorities are enacted, we will turn back the harsh trend of rising poverty, unemployment, hunger and homelessness,” the joint statement continues. “We call upon Congress to follow and build upon the President’s lead in crafting the Budget Resolution, recognizing that there is no time to waste in meeting the nation’s long-deferred needs.”

Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN), one of the groups in the coalition told the World, “If you’re looking for a reordering of national priorities that addresses the needs of most Americans, this budget is it.”

She cited the $634 billion health care reserve fund in Obama’s budget, the billions to shift toward a “green” economy and for public education.
Equally important, she said, is restoring tax justice by repealing Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest five percent who escaped hundreds of billions in taxes over the past eight years.
It is past time, she added, for Congress to decide which is more important “another Raptor weapons system or more funds for education?”

Weinstein, CHN and others in the coalition battled valiantly last year for an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover 11 million more uninsured youngsters. They were unable to overcome President George W. Bush’s vetoes and GOP Senate filibusters. In a dramatic sign of how things have changed, Obama signed the SCHIP expansion bill within days of taking office.

Weinstein said a bipartisan bloc in the House and Senate are still trying to block funding for human needs programs. Currently, for example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has introduced a measure to scuttle a $410 billion omnibus domestic spending bill covering the current fiscal year.

“We think they are very wrong about this, that it would be very harmful,” Weinstein said. “In this economic recession the needs are growing tremendously yet the programs to help those in need have been shrinking for years.”

Weinstein said the first challenge is pushing through the House and Senate a budget resolution that reflects Obama’s priorities.

Setting the overall size of the budget requires only a simple Senate majority, not a 60-vote supermajority to pass it in the Senate.
“But down the road we do anticipate the need for 60 votes” to push specific spending measures through the Senate, she said.

The coalition includes the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU, NEA, Sierra Club, USAction, ACORN, United States Student Association, Citizens for Tax Justice, MoveOn, National Women’s Law Center, and dozens more.

The effort was initiated by Americans United for Change whose media director, Jeremy Funk, told the World, “The millions of jobs created and saved by the President’s Economic Recovery Plan and by this Obama budget means millions more people spending money and getting the economy working again. These long term investments that make healthcare and education more affordable and reduce our dependence on foreign oil will ensure a far stronger economy down the road.”

The coalition, he added, “will be putting enormous grassroots pressure on Congressional Republicans. This budget represents the change the American people voted for last November.”

Funk said the coalition will spend between $5 million and $7 million to air radio and TV ads targeting lawmakers who seek to block the budget.

“We started airing radio ads in the districts of five Republican lawmakers urging them to abandon their leader, Rush Limbaugh, and his openly expressed hope that Obama ‘fails,’” he added. “Instead they should do the right thing for the struggling families they represent by voting for President Obama’s budget.”