Liberal groups call for more spending

Labor and liberal interest group leaders want Democrats to bulk up government spending because of May’s lackluster jobs report. 

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and other liberal leaders on Tuesday said Congress should keep stimulating the economy so that the recovery is not undermined. 

Lawmakers should not allow themselves to be held back by concerns over deficit spending, the leaders argued, as the best solution to bringing down the national debt is to create more jobs and raise consumer spending and government tax revenue. 

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“We do not have a short-term deficit crisis in this country. We do have a short-term jobs crisis,” Trumka said. 

Liberal groups and unions want to see the Senate add unemployment benefits back to the tax extenders legislation. Those benefits were stripped out by the House before the Memorial Day recess due to debt worries. In addition, they want Congress to pass legislation that would provide $23 billion in aid to state and local governments to prevent teacher layoffs as well as to offer fiscal relief to municipalities to keep public workers on the job.

The plea for more government spending is running up against a White House that wants to show its deficit-cutting chops. The press conference by Trumka and others came on the same day that Peter Orszag, the White House budget director, said in a speech that the Obama administration is asking each federal agency to demonstrate how it would cut its spending by 5 percent by 2012. 

Liberal groups are trying to win President Barack Obama to their side of the debate. 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has told lawmakers to pass the teachers’ relief bill, and the president said Tuesday that Congress must not let unemployment benefits laps. But Orszag’s focus on deficit reduction as well as concerns that the Obama-created debt commission will recommend cuts to social services has led many liberals to question the administration’s resolve to push for more government spending to fix the economic downturn. 

In turn, liberal advocates say Obama needs to signal his support more strongly for more spending on jobs measures. 

“Now we need President Obama to walk the walk to Capitol Hill. We need his help, because on Capitol Hill there are a handful of Democrats who are afraid — afraid to do what’s right for America,” Trumka said. 

Liberal groups are worried about cuts state and local governments may make to programs for the poor. 

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said the current recession has had a “devastating effect” on women because of cuts to child care and healthcare local government services.

“Deficits cannot be cured on the backs of poor people who need these programs to stay out of poverty,” O’Neill said. 

O’Neill and others argue the federal government is still the best option to serve as the nation’s jobs creator. Though they said the 2009 stimulus package has done some good for the economy, it has not been enough to lessen Americans’ job concerns. 

“In the worst crises, government is the only realistic option to create jobs quickly and to the scale to make a dent in the problem,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director for the Center for Community Change, an anti-poverty advocacy group. “To opponents of higher spending, let’s be clear: Prolonged unemployment will lead to higher deficits.”

Liberal leaders said politicians must be held accountable for their actions. The labor movement has been especially aggressive this year in challenging Democrats for being out of step with their agenda, best exemplified by their support for a Democrat challenging Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). 

“Quite frankly, it is time for action, not excuses,” Trumka said.