The White House has been reaching out to unions, interest groups and other downtown stakeholders for the past few weeks, soliciting data points and political feedback as it puts the finishing touches on Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
At the same time, industry groups pushing their agendas have filled up the president’s inbox with plenty of unsolicited proposals. After all, what lobbyist wouldn’t want to take a red pen to the State of the Union?
Getting a mention of a signature cause can catapult the issue to the top of the agenda. The State of the Union will help set the debate in Congress this year and has far-reaching political ramifications for the upcoming elections.
“We’ve had a number of meetings with various White House officials over the course of the last couple weeks,” said Chuck Loveless, director of legislation for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “They wanted to hear what we have to say.”
Some K Streeters said they were reluctant to discuss publicly what issues they were pressing the White House on for fear of setting them up for failure if President Barack Obama does not mention it Tuesday. Others, however, were eager to share the agenda items they want the president to press for.
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said she’s hopeful that, because the White House reached out to women’s organizations in advance of the speech, Obama will touch on some of the issues NOW cares about, such as unemployment and poverty, reproductive health and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
“We are under no illusions,” she said. “I don’t expect him to be perfect on our issues.”
NOW plans to compare an open letter it sent to the president with the text of the address as part of a “massive voter education and voter awareness and mobilization effort for 2012,” she said. “If we support someone who’s not perfect, we can take a step toward achieving our goals.”
Loveless said his union would like to see Obama build on the “income inequality” theme of a major speech he gave in December in Osawatomie, Kan.
“He framed an economic populist message,” Loveless said. “We would like to see the president renew and build upon key provisions of the American Jobs Act.”
Loveless added that he expects the president to reiterate his support for extending unemployment insurance benefits and a middle-class tax cut. “We expect him to clearly articulate that he’s on the side of a strong, secure middle class, while there are others who have staked a position to support the top 1 percent of Americans,” he said.
But getting something included in the speech is no small order, especially for outside advocates. Even some of the most senior White House policy advisers may lobby hard for their issues to be included in the address, but they won’t have final say over what gets mentioned in the big speech. So even if lobbyists can convince those folks of the merits of their issue, it may not survive internal White House politicking.
“Our enemies as well as our allies listen to this speech,” one lobbyist said. “It’s about jobs and the economy, but we also have problems in Iran and North Korea. And there are other things that have to make it in that speech.”
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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