AFL-CIO Looks for United Front on Election Day

By Dan Balz and Michael A. Fletcher
Sunday, September 3, 2006

Determined to prove their continuing political clout despite divisions in the ranks, leaders of the AFL-CIO have launched what they hope will produce their biggest-ever mobilization of union members at the polls this fall.

Last week, labor leaders announced plans to spend $40 million on 80 targeted races in 21 states. They predicted they would boost turnout among union members and their families by at least 10 percentage points over the turnout in 2002, with the goal of producing Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

"George Bush isn't on the ballot this November, but his agenda is, and the Republicans in Congress who have rubber-stamped his priorities are," AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney told reporters.

Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO's political director, said labor has redoubled efforts in the face of what it regards as an effective Republican voter-mobilization operation. Ackerman said officials have increased contacts with members and have become more sophisticated in their use of technology to motivate union workers.

"If we meet our goals, we will contribute more than 1.2 million more votes for our endorsed candidates than we were able to in 2002," she said.

Labor's role is considered important this fall because Democratic candidates cannot count on an independent voter mobilization operation -- America Coming Together -- that supplemented Sen. John F. Kerry's (D-Mass.) presidential organization in 2004.

There have been concerns among Democrats that last year's split within the AFL-CIO could diminish the effectiveness of what long has been considered an integral element of the party's Election Day effort. But Sweeney said that AFL-CIO unions are working at the local level with the breakaway unions, which formed the Change to Win coalition.

Breaking Down War Costs Political Action activists fanned out to congressional offices in 25 locations around the country to dramatize the budgetary impact of the Iraq war. Employing props including giant red hands and signs, the protesters said congressional representatives have been caught "red-handed" wasting taxpayer money by supporting the war, whose fiscal tab has surpassed $300 billion.

Drawing on reports by the Congressional Budget Office and the National Priorities Project, the activists were able to break down how much the war has cost by state and congressional district. They then projected what the money could have bought if it had been spent on peaceful pursuits.

"The story of the cost of the war is a key part of the critique of the Bush policy," said Tom Matzzie, Washington director for the liberal advocacy group. "It is something we will continue to drive home."

According to the calculations used by MoveOn, Maryland taxpayers put up $6.2 billion for the war, which could have been used to hire 98,000 elementary school teachers, provide 855,000 people with health care, build 45,629 affordable housing units or fund 913,000 university scholarships.

In the District, taxpayers have paid $1.4 billion toward the war, enough for 234,000 people to be given health care, to hire 26,000 public school teachers or build 9,300 affordable housing units.

And in Virginia, taxpayers contributed $8.6 billion to the war, enough to pay for nearly 1.6 million people to get health care, 145,000 elementary school teachers and 75,000 affordable housing units.

'Stay the Course' Sometimes

White House officials complain that Democrats mischaracterize President Bush's policy on the war in Iraq as "stay the course." He's not simply staying the course, they say, because he constantly adapts tactics to adjust to developments.

But if "stay the course" is a slur against Bush's policy, someone needs to tell the president. During a speech in Salt Lake City last week, he used the term without reservation. "We will stay the course, we will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed, and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century," he said.

Asked to explain, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said: "The president has made clear that it is in our nation's interest to stay in Iraq until the job is done. He has also stressed that staying in Iraq does not mean we aren't adapting or changing our tactics to reflect the realities on the ground."

So "stay the course" is right when the president uses it, but not when the other guys do.

Meanwhile, the White House provided new justification for Bush's recent assertion that Democrats want to cut off funding for the war. Last week, when first asked about the comment, the White House could name no major Democrat who has proposed blocking money for military operations. But on Friday, spokeswoman Dana Perino pointed to a bill introduced in November by some House Democrats that would ban any funding "to deploy or continue to deploy the Armed Forces to the Republic of Iraq."

The bill was sponsored by some of the most liberal members of the House, led by Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.) and joined by Reps. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), Barney Frank (Mass.), Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio). Party and congressional and party leaders have not embraced the tactic, although the White House pointed out that some of the co-sponsors are deputy whips and ranking committee members.

Quote of the Week

"I also read three Shakespeares. . . . I'm reading about the Battle of New Orleans right now. I've got an ec-e-lectic reading list."

-- President Bush, speaking with NBC News anchor Brian Williams about reports that he read "The Stranger" by Albert Camus during his summer vacation.

Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.

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