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Liberal Groups Launch Contract of Their Own

Liberals are borrowing a tactic from the tea parties to get the nation’s attention back on jobs.

A broad coalition of advocacy groups including MoveOn.org Civic Action, the Sierra Club, CodePink and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force launched the “Contract for the American Dream” on Wednesday.

The 10-point document advocates investment in public education and jobs, expansion of Medicare, taxes on Wall Street trades and an end to the wars. It mimics a tea party “Contract From America” launched last year, which called for a reduction in taxes, a balanced budget and reduced federal spending.

The tea party plan was written after organizers narrowed down tens of thousands of ideas culled from individual Americans, a model the new liberal contract hopes to emulate.

In both instances, advocacy groups asked their members, in person, on the phone and through the Internet, for ways to get Capitol Hill back on track. The list was sifted multiple times through online voting to create the final contracts.

But it remains to be seen whether a contract can bring together liberals in a tea-party-like grass-roots movement to change the discourse in Washington, D.C.

Van Jones, a prominent liberal activist who introduced the concept of the Contract for the American Dream at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis in June, told reporters on a conference call this week that it would. He noted that more people participated in the liberal contract than its tea party counterpart.

“This movement to save the American dream has already started off as three times as big as the tea parties,” Jones said.

Ryan Hecker, the Houston-based tea partyer who conceptualized the tea party contract, called the liberal imitation an honor but doubted it would be as effective as the tea party one.

“We had a bottom-up movement that strengthened the document,” Hecker said in an interview. “He’s trying to create a new movement from scratch around this document.”

The tea party contract gave that movement an idea to coalesce around, and with prominent tea party Republicans including Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) signed on to it, the contract rose in prominence.

Liberals, too, are trying to get lawmakers to back their contract, and they point out that activism in their ranks is also on the rise. During the final days of the debt ceiling fight, groups such as MoveOn.org mobilized their members and overwhelmed the Congressional switchboard.

“Frustration is what’s fueling the rise of the American Dream movement,” Justin Ruben, MoveOn.org’s executive director, said on the call.

Ruben added that he expects lawmakers will take some time before embracing the contract, but he said thousands of activists would attend town hall meetings this month to demand that Members review the document and sign on. More than 150,000 people already have.

“As these principles gain momentum, people will be looking to support politicians who embrace them and turn against those who don’t,” he told Roll Call.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky has already offered two bills supporting the contract. The Illinois Democrat who has been working closely with the groups has introduced legislation making new tax brackets for high-income earners and plans to introduce a bill creating 2.2 million jobs for teachers, firefighters, health care providers and students.

“If you listen to Washington, it’s just about cuts. ... That could make the job situation worse,” she said on the call introducing the Contract for the American Dream. “We have to grow our way out of this.”

Critics of contracts say a document isn’t the way. Lisa Miller, head of the Washington-based Tea Party WDC, did not sign the Contract From America and said it only played a minor role in the movement’s growth. She expects the same will be true of the liberal one.

“The problem with these pledges is that the legislation that’s connected to it or identified with it may not reflect or accomplish those goals,” Miller said.

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