Some efforts have taken place in public, as well, with Obama assuring a conference of Hispanic activists this week that he is looking out for low-income people and telling a public radio show last week that “a lot of the spending cuts that we’re making should be around areas like defense spending, as opposed to food stamps.” Speaking to Univision Radio, in one of two Hispanic-oriented radio interviews last week, Obama described the fight to protect the poor and the elderly as a “debate about our values.”
The push comes at an unusually tense time on the political left, as liberals fret over how far a Democratic president might go in reducing once-untouchable programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The White House effort, which involves stepped-up contact with Democratic lawmakers, appears designed not just to secure votes for passage of some kind of deal, but also to hold the party together coming out of the debt crisis and heading into next year’s election campaign.
“The White House is taking pains to make sure a broad range of advocates and service providers and faith groups are apprised of what they’re doing and get their rationale for why they’re doing it,” said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, which advocates for aid to the poor and has participated in White House discussions. “Any group that they know there are constituents all over is important to them.”
White House officials say outreach has been stepped up to a wide range of groups in the Democratic base but also beyond it, to business organizations, veterans and advocates for military members, some of whom attended a recent White House briefing.
“There’s an intense interest in the discussions in Congress about reducing the deficit and preventing a default,” White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said. “As a part of that process, we have spent time meeting with groups from diverse backgrounds, whether it’s veterans and military service organizations or groups representing low-income families.”
Still, even as the president seeks to gain leverage against House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) and other GOP foes, he has been forced to balance the competing demands of his own restive support network.