More than 40 AFT leaders from 20 states traveled to Washington, D.C., on Feb. 4 to lobby members of the U.S. Senate to support the national economic recovery plan. Even though the lobby day was planned weeks in advance, the timing could not have been better, AFT legislative director Tor Cowan told the group.
While the House of Representatives passed its version on Jan. 28, the bill has faced a tougher time in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to end debate and pass the legislation. The goal is to move the bill through the Senate and reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions so that President Obama can sign the legislation on Presidents Day (Feb. 16).
AFT leaders were pushing a number of key issues addressed in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including the bill's significant investment in education; an increase in funding for Medicaid, which would help reduce some of the program's growing burden on state budgets; ample funding for school construction and modernization; and opposition to efforts to reduce the bill's support for Pell Grants and other higher education programs. Passage of the recovery act is the current top priority of the AFT's "Fight for America's Future: It's Dollars and Sense" campaign.
In conjunction with the meetings, the AFT also sent a letter to the full Senate urging support for the bill and reiterating many of the same points that the AFT leaders were making in their visits with senators and their staffs.
When the AFT leaders gathered back at the union's headquarters to discuss how their lobbying visits went, it was clear that many senators have concerns about specific portions of the stimulus bill and are looking for changes, ranging from minor fixes to major overhauls. Senate staffers also told the AFT leaders that it would be helpful to hear more from rank-and-file members who work in schools and other institutions about how the economy is affecting them and why the stimulus needs to be passed as soon as possible. In addition to gathering stories directly from members, AFT leaders are encouraged to send their members to the AFT's Fight for America's Future Web site, where they can submit their own stories.
In addition to meeting with their senators, more than a dozen of the AFT leaders also conducted interviews with radio stations back in their home states and districts to talk about why they had come to Washington to lobby for the recovery plan.
The timing of lobby day on Feb. 4 also proved to be fortuitous because it coincided with a large rally, right next to the Senate office buildings, in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.