On the same day he told congressional leaders that he would seek common ground to avert deep budget cuts scheduled to go into effect next year, President Obama met with a roster of civic and civil rights leaders and promised them that he shared their goal of protecting the nation’s middle class and more vulnerable families, several of the leaders said.
Obama and Vice President Biden met with advocates for the poor, the elderly, Hispanics, African Americans, the disabled and young people, among others. Several of them told reporters outside the West Wing after their meeting ended that they were encouraged by Obama’s willingness to listen and his promise that he shares their goals.
The advocates said they urged Obama not to raise taxes on lower or middle class families and not to cut programs that serve these families. Several of them noted that the constituencies they represent turned out heavily for Obama in last week’s presidential election -- a sign that the nation expects the president to stand up for them during these negotiations, they said.
“We worked very hard to turn out a lot of folks in this election,” said Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest civil rights group for Hispanics.
Several of the participants represent faith-based groups, including Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK, better known as the “Nun on the Bus” who advocated during election season on behalf of social justice and anti-poverty measures. Campbell said Obama pledged to work on behalf of those issues.
“He clearly understands that you can work for minimum wage and still be in poverty,” she said. “His commitment to ensuring that working class families are protected in these negotiations is really at the heart of it for us.”
The Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners also spoke after the meeting: “Deficits are indeed moral issues, and how you resolve them is a moral issue too. You can’t resolve a deficit by increasing poverty. So during this holiday season, we faith leaders are going to reach out as we always do to poor people. But we’re also going to say don’t do things fiscally that make the poor poorer and don’t make our job harder.”
Participants also included Ben Jealous of the NAACP, the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Deepa Iyer of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Barry Rand of AARP, Barry Rand, AARP and Aaron Smith of Young Invincibles, a youth advocacy group.