Pass the budget! Grassroots coalition demands action

WASHINGTON—President Obama appealed to the people to throw their support behind his first federal budget to help pull the country out of the deep economic crisis. Speaking at his second White House news conference the President said the $3.5 trillion Fiscal Year 2010 budget is “is going to need the support of the American people,” adding that it is “inseparable” from his economic recovery program.

Obama rebutted arguments that his budget will add too much to the federal deficit. The biggest cause of the deficit, he said, is the runaway costs of health care which his budget begins to address.’

He defended the billions allocated for green, renewable forms of energy, for health care, and education, all initiatives that will create millions of jobs. He renewed his call for tax cuts for middle-income families and higher taxes on the wealthy. He called for elimination of wasteful spending on Medicare and in military procurement.

A reporter pointed out, one in fifty children in the U.S. are now homeless.

“With shelters at full capacity, tent cities are sprouting up across the country. What would you say to these families, especially children who are sleeping under bridges and in tent cities?” the reporter asked.

“It is unacceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours,” Obama replied.

The most important task, he said is to “make sure their parents have a job” and “make sure that when people do lose their jobs that their unemployment insurance is extended, that they can keep their health care.”

A coalition of 100 organizations initiated by Americans United for Change was already answering Obama’s appeal, launching a grassroots campaign to push through Obama’s budget in the face of stubborn opposition by the Republican right and a handful of Blue Dog Democrats.

The coalition includes the AFL-CIO and many of its affiliated unions, ACORN, SEIU, U.S. Catholic Conference, the YMCA and YWCA, NAACP and dozens more organizations with tens of millions of members.

Organizing for America, with more than 14 million people who helped elect Obama in its database, launched a door-to-door campaign March 21 in support of the budget. MoveOn has scheduled a similar effort.

“We’ve been seeing AIG and CitiGroup on bended knees asking for handouts,” said Michael Petit, president of Every Child Matters, one of the groups in the coalition. “If they can do it for General Motors, why can’t they do it for our kids?”

Petit told the World, Obama “has done a remarkable thing early in his term, extending SCHIP health care to three million more children and pushing through an economic recovery package with more funds for children and families than any initiative since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.”

Now Obama’s budget promises even more for children and families, he said.

“Obama gets an A, close to an A+,” he continued. “There is no question that he is a kid-friendly President. We don’t need to lobby him or pressure him. He believes we have a moral responsibility to each other and especially to children.”

He assailed Republican stonewall tactics. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), “have been the architects in dismantling programs that serve children and families,” Petit charged. “Instead of criticizing the president’s budget, they should study the facts and figures on the status of our nation’s children and step forward and offer a helping hand.”

Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions in Minneapolis echoed that view. “We support the president’s budget on hunger issues,” she told the World.

“Hunger in Minnesota has grown astronomically. It’s directly tied to people being unemployed and underemployed.”

The number of people visiting emergency Food Banks has skyrocketed 100 percent in Minnesota, she said. “There are 35 million people in the U.S. who are ‘food insecure’ meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

She hailed Obama’s economic stimulus package for increasing the per-family Food Stamp benefit by $79 additional each month for a family of four. Obama also increased by $1 billion spending for children’s nutrition programs.

Robert Borosage, co-chair of the Campaign for America’s Future and William McNary, president of USAction announced a grassroots campaign to pressure Blue Dog Democrats to vote for Obama’s budget. Eight of these Democrats joined with Republicans in opposing efforts to win passage of a Budget Resolution that included the $684 billion health care fund and tens of billions more for Obama’s green energy program. It requires only a simple majority of 51 senators to pass a Budget Resolution so it is not subject to a Republican filibuster that requires 60 senators’ votes to end.

Borosage accused Blue Dog Democrats led by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) of “giving away the store.”

“If they feel a little heat at home they may see the light in Washington,” he said.

McNary said 50,000 members of USAction will mobilize in the Blue Dogs’ districts.

“The people voted for change last November,” he said. “We cannot allow senators to get cold feet or become unwitting accomplices of those who don’t want change.”