The President’s effort to rally various interests around his middle class tax compromise with the Republicans continues. Yesterday, he met with the National Policy Alliance (NPA), a group representing 11, 000 black elected officials and 10 member organizations, three million African Americans working in local, state and federal government, and 40 million persons of all racial groups.
The delegation acknowledged that there are parts of the tax agreement that they do not fully support, but said they recognized that significant portions of the bipartisan agreement will help millions of families who continue to struggle during these tough economic times.
Co-Chair of NPA and Mayor of Tuskegee, Alabama Johnny Ford said at a press gathering after the meeting that his group understood the importance of compromise. “These are the types of issues, the policy decisions that the president needs to make and he needs to know there is a united organization which speaks with one voice in support of those positions,” Ford said. “We told the president, ‘Mr. President, when you are standing up for extending unemployment benefits for All Americans at a time in this country, nearing Christmas time, when people are out of work, you are our kind of president, and we support you…when you stand up for tax cuts for all Americans.’”
Delegates from the organization said they acknowledged the provisions in the tax cut compromise that would help many struggling Americans in their local communities. In particular, the payroll tax cut; the American Opportunity Tax Credit that will help more than 8 million students and their families to pay for college; the Earned Income Tax Credit extension; and the 13-month extension of unemployment insurance benefits for those Americans still trying to find a job are all viewed as necessary and beneficial components of the compromise.
The group also used the opportunity to communicate the concerns of their constituencies to the President. “We are where the rubber meets the road,” said Robert Bowser, Mayor of East Orange New Jersey and president of the National Conference of Black Mayors. “We came here to talk to the President about our problems because mayors are closest to the people…if you don’t know what the problem is, you can’t solve it.”
Bowser said the group shared with the President concerns over the double-digit unemployment rate among African Americans. “In some of the urban areas, it’s over 20%. He needs to know those numbers so he can understand where to begin to start fixing the problems,” Bowser added.
Joined by senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, the group chatted with the president for over an hour to discuss a variety of pressing policy issues that affect millions of Americans, including education, judicial appointments, economic development, job creation, health care, and job creation, particularly in urban communities where the unemployment rate is as high as 20%, more than double the national unemployment rate of 9.7%.
NPA Co-Chair Johnny Ford said the president knows these numbers and is willing to work with his group towards solutions. “We are saying to the president that we want to be your partner in the process and we will continue to let you know what’s going on in America, and we want to work with you to help shape public policy in a way that benefits the African American community in particular, and in general, all Americans,” Ford said.
Georgia State Representative Calvin Smyre, who served as President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators from December 2007 – December 2010 added, “the fact of the matter is that we wanted to give him [President Obama] some dialogue and perspectives outside the beltway so he can understand the difficulty that people are going through in our communities, and that we represent the needs of people in the country.”
According to Smyre, the group also gave the President feedback as to how some of his administration’s policies are impacting states. “We relayed to him that had it not been for the stimulus a lot of states would have been in bankruptcy.” Smyre also said he wanted the President to consider the funding mechanism of block grants and examine “how they flow to local communities.” He said there is a change in the political landscape with the midterms and with the new census numbers being released soon. He wanted to make sure the President recognized the changing electorate as well.
The group said it also asked the President to convene a task force to look into education and to consider an assistance program to enable smaller towns and municipalities to apply for grants.
The meeting was the first of several meetings planned.
The NPA’s 10- member organizations include Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, National Black Caucus of State Legislators, National Association of Black County Officials, National Conference of Black Mayors, National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, World Conference of Mayors, National Black Caucus of School Board Members, Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, and Blacks in Government; with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies serving as its secretariat.