Obama team stimulus sell: bully pulpit, social networking, phone banks

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WASHINGTON — The Obama White House and Democratic allies have opened a multi-front campaign to build pressure on Congress to pass a stimulus package of more than $800 billion, using tools from the old-fashioned bully pulpit to Internet social networking


The Senate is expected to vote this week on a massive spending and tax cut bill, with the legislation poised to pass with only three GOP votes. Those Republicans are crucial in making the legislation filibuster-proof. The real wrangling will be over reconciling the $827 billion Senate bill with the $820 billion measure the House approved with no Republican votes. The administration prefers calling the package a “recovery” bill rather than a stimulus.

President Obama, in office three weeks Tuesday, imposed a Feb. 16 deadline for passage in the first major test of the bipartisan theme that dominated his presidential drive.

Obama is hitting the road. While there is some thought the White House should have engaged the public earlier, the Obama team is making up for lost time. Other aspects of the Obama blitz include:

Obama hosts a campaign-style town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., today, landing Air Force One in South Bend and motorcading to an area suffering from high unemployment triggered by the economic meltdown. Tonight, Obama holds his first White House press conference, where questions about the stimulus will be expected when he meets the press in the East Room.

On Tuesday, Obama travels to Fort Myers, Fla., for another town hall meeting in a community hard hit by the recession.

Obama’s offices of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison — overseen by Valerie Jarrett — have been working with opinion leaders for the last two weeks. Governors, mayors and CEOs have been at the White House. Others receiving briefings are leaders of foundations, women’s organizations, labor unions and religious organizations.

Jarrett’s operation is also staffing a phone bank providing briefings for elected officials and other organizations nationwide.

An advertising campaign has been launched by Americans United for Change, a Democratic-allied group designed to whip up support for the three moderate Republicans who are providing the Democrats with their filibuster-proof margins. Americans United is running radio ads thanking Maine GOP Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, as well as Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). However, their backing is not 100 percent assured for the final vote on the merged House-Senate bill. Collins, who played a crucial roll in crafting a compromise, said her vote for the final bill is not a foregone conclusion.

Obama’s team is resurrecting the social network “movement” –with millions of e-mails of supporters — used so efficiently during the two years of the presidential campaign. “Obama for America” has morphed into a governing tool, “Organizing for America,” based at the Democratic National Committee, complete with a Web site modeled after barackobama.com.

Supporters are being asked to host or attend house meetings so they can “connect the recovery plan to their lives.”

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