By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
A large group of liberal organizations is planning to wage a national lobbying and public relations campaign to press for passage of the House Democrats' legislative agenda next year, taking a page from longtime corporate practices.
The Change America Now coalition, or CAN, met yesterday at AFL-CIO headquarters to outline the many methods it will use -- including the release of research papers and e-mail and phone bombardment of Congress.
The goal is to persuade on-the-fence lawmakers in more than 80 congressional districts to vote for the "Hundred Hours" agenda, a list of legislation that Democrats hope to approve in the first 100 legislative hours of the new Congress. The agenda includes an increase in the minimum wage and an effort to reduce the cost of Medicare prescription drugs.
The campaign will largely target Republican moderates and Republicans who were narrowly elected in November. The group's leaders said they hope to increase the margin of victory for each plank of the platform in the House to boost the measures' prospects in the Senate -- a much harder place for them to succeed. In addition, they said early wins will make it easier for each organization to persuade Congress later to approve other elements of their own legislative wish lists.
"Groups on the progressive side support the priorities that are represented in the Hundred Hours agenda and we want to see them enacted," said Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO's legislative director.
Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America's Future, said that approval of the Hundred Hours agenda would also help the public better understand what the incoming Democratic majority stands for. "We are still too undefined," he said, and the Hundred Hours agenda "begins that process" of redefinition.
The 40-member coalition's other major organizers are Americans United, USAction, and labor unions led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, he said.
Yesterday morning, at a regular, biweekly meeting of liberal organizations called the Tuesday Group, about 100 people packed a conference room to hear the coalition's strategy. Representatives of many groups that were instrumental in electing Democrats to Congress this year were there, including the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the Center for American Progress and several women's organizations.
The effort they discussed was reminiscent of the elaborate business-backed lobbying campaign 12 years ago that pushed the "Contract With America," which was the then-Republican majority's legislative agenda. Conservative groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Christian Coalition banded together then to lobby the House to pass the GOP's 10-part program.
The meeting was also an echo of a conservatives' gathering that started in 1993 and continues to this day, hosted by Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist's weekly "Wednesday Meeting" routinely attracts 150 people and is a forum for discussing ways to bolster conservative policies.
Hickey said the liberals' Tuesday Group was designed to counter a government "dominated by the special interests." In response, Norquist said: "So says the guy from the trial lawyers, the labor unions and the radical environmentalists. The Democratic Party is a collection of special interests."