Unions budget up to $15 million for August campaign

Labor unions and liberal advocacy groups will spend between $10 million and $20 million this month to twist lawmakers’ arms over the stalled healthcare reform effort in Congress.
 
Much of the grassroots activity and television ads will be aimed at persuading centrist Democrats and Republicans to support the creation of a robust government-run health insurance program. Many centrists have balked at the cost of pending healthcare proposals and are reluctant to embrace government competition in the insurance markets.
 
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The AFL-CIO and affiliated unions are planning a massive dual offensive on healthcare reform and labor law reform in August, budgeting $10 to $15 million on the effort, according to a senior labor official. The labor unions’ advocacy will consist of mass mailings, running phone banks and distributing policy fliers at worksites.
 
“This is expensive stuff,” said Gerald Shea, Assistant to the President for Governmental Affairs at the AFL-CIO, who provided a rough estimate of the cost of August activities. Shea said the effort would be conducted by the AFL-CIO and affiliated unions and would focus on healthcare reform and the Employee Free Choice Act.
 
Shea said the AFL-CIO’s activities would reach a level the same level of intensity as July of last year, when it escalated its efforts to support then-candidate Barack Obama after he clinched the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
 
Shea declined to say which senators and members of the House would be targeted.
 
Healthcare reform and labor law reform are of high priority to labor unions and both initiatives have stalled in the first seven months of the 111th Congress. Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who have raised concern over a proposal to allow unions to organize through petition instead of secret-ballot election, are negotiating a compromise to the Employee Free Choice Act.
 
In addition to the AFL-CIO’s spending plans, Health Care for America Now, a coalition of labor unions and liberal advocacy groups is planning to spend $2.5 million in August to pressure lawmakers on healthcare reform alone.
 
The month-long campaign will nearly match the $3 million the coalition has already spent this year advocating for healthcare reform that includes a broad government-run insurance option, said Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager of Health Care for America Now.
 
“There will be a huge amount of grassroots organizing at the local level combined with selected paid advertising,” said Kirsh, who said the coalition generated 50,000 calls to the House on one day last week.
 
Health Care for America Now, whose members include ACORN, AFL-CIO, Campaign for America’s Future, the Center for American Progress, MoveOn.org, the NAACP, and the Service Employees International Union, will hold national neighborhood canvassing days on Aug. 8 and on Aug. 22.

The coalition’s activities will reach a peak during the first week of August and the last week of August, when House lawmakers are returning home to their districts and when they are getting ready to return to D.C.
 
Shea, the AFL-CIO official, said his estimate of $10 million to $15 million did not include activity by Health Care for America Now.
 
Both efforts will push centrist Democrats and Republicans to support the creation of a broad government-run health insurance program, known as the public option. This will create pressure on Democrats to reject a proposal favored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to set up membership-run health insurance co-operatives.
 
Liberal Democrats say that state- or regional-based co-ops will not be able to compete as effectively with private insurance companies as a government program.
 
“What is sacred is competition in the insurance market,” said Shea. “I haven’t seen a proposal on the co-ops that does that.”
 
The Campaign Media and Analysis Group estimates that groups have spent nearly $10 million through the middle of July on advertisements supporting President Obama’s healthcare plan.
 
The bulk of the spending by the AFL-CIO and Health Care for America Now, however, would be on grassroots activity instead of television ads.
 
Organizing for America, a wing of the Democratic National Committee, has also planned an advertising campaign and grassroots activity for August to support Obama’s healthcare plan.