- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Trying to recharge unions key to his 2008 victory, President Obama on Wednesday implored members of the AFL-CIO to be patient with the pace of the recovery and warned them they and the economy would suffer far worse under Republican rule.

“I know if you’re talking to a lot of your locals. I’m sure they’re feeling like, ‘Boy, change is not happening fast enough; we are still hurting out here.’ They’re frustrated,” Mr. Obama told the friendly crowd.

“And I am happy, as president of the United States, to take responsibility for making decisions now that are going to put us in a strong position down the road. And they need to know that.”

Indeed, though economists say a recovery is under way, the picture is still bleak with national unemployment still hovering around 9.5 percent. But Mr. Obama touted his legislative record, including the $862 billion stimulus bill, the health care overhaul and the rewrite of financial regulatory rules, as evidence of the progress his administration has made on the economic front.

Of course, the president and his allies still have yet to deliver on labor’s biggest priority - the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that makes it easier for unions to organize. The controversial bill has remained stalled even in a Democratic-controlled Congress. Mr. Obama drew sustained applause when he said he still hopes to pass the legislation, which is vehemently opposed by business groups that argue it will eliminate jobs.

“While President Obama continues to claim out of one side of his mouth that the economy and job creation are his top priorities, in the next breath he states support for legislation which will result in lost jobs and closed businesses,” said Katie Packer, head of the Workforce Fairness Institute, an advocacy group.

Mr. Obama’s remarks, made before the federation’s executive council, came one day after AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told workers he knows they’re frustrated, but said electing Democrats is key to advancing their agenda.

Mr. Obama may not have delivered everything on labor’s legislative wish list, but he has taken steps that advance their agenda through his unilateral powers, including several union-friendly executive orders he signed soon after taking office.

Targeting unions is integral to Democratic campaign efforts as the party seeks to close the enthusiasm gap vis-a-vis Republican and independent voters - something Mr. Trumka noted in a Tuesday speech that decried the GOP as “corporate lapdogs.” The AFL-CIO is expected to spend $50 million over the next three months to help Democrats in the congressional and gubernatorial races.

As he has done increasingly in recent weeks, Mr. Obama painted November as a choice between his policies and those of the Bush administration - which, he argued, favored big business over workers.

“We’re not going to go back to the policies that took Bill Clinton’s surplus and in eight years turned it into record deficits. We’re not going back to policies that saw people working harder and harder but falling further and further behind. We’re not going back to policies that gave corporate special interests free rein to write their own rules, and produced the greatest economic crisis in generations,” he said.

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