As Obama Seeks Republican Votes, Worry on His Left

President Obama's courtship of the right is beginning to worry some friends on the left.

As the Obama administration seeks ways to streamline his stimulus plan to appeal to Republican lawmakers, the president risks alienating key allies in his liberal base.

A range of interest groups are aggressively making the case that favored projects and programs deserve funding as part of the stimulus plan, even while the president and his aides scour the package for items they can eliminate.

With public scrutiny growing on a handful of areas that congressional Democrats are seeking to fund, groups are increasingly concerned that the $800 billion-plus stimulus package represents what might be the last best chance to see their priorities addressed.

"In my judgment, [the push for funding] is as important as an election campaign," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Her group is bringing teachers from around the country to Washington Wednesday for a national lobbying day, to highlight the importance of maintaining $159 billion in education aid in the latest version of the stimulus plan.

"The economy and educational opportunities are completely and totally intertwined, both in the long-term and the short-term," Weingarten said. "It's absolutely critical to do it now. This is what leadership is about."

Obama aides are engaged in intense negotiations with members of both parties, in an attempt to build broad, bipartisan support for the stimulus. Those efforts took on added urgency after the package was unanimously opposed by GOP House members last week, although they lacked enough votes to stop it.

Obama has indicated he's looking to eliminate extra funding for programs that don't relate directly to the goal of stimulating the economy.

"We're going to be trimming up ... [removing] things that are not relevant to putting people back to work right now," Obama told NBC Sunday.

But the efforts to attract Republicans could put further strain on the president's sometimes tenuous relationship with liberal interest groups, who are worried that the push to tighten the bill will come at the expense of their priorities.

Obama's Core Support at Risk

"It's a big tension," said Julian Zelizer, a political science professor at Princeton University. "The more he moves to the center, and to the right, the more he risks losing some of his core supporters, who have limited tolerance for these kinds of compromises."

Senate Democrats Monday agreed to remove $75 million in anti-smoking funds from the stimulus bill, bowing to critics who argued that such funding had no direct relationship to job creation.

That was despite the entreaties of public health groups, who cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics estimating that it would save 1,500 jobs in states that are trimming anti-smoking programs, plus save about $1 billion in long-term health care costs by convincing more people to quit smoking.

"There are ways of creating jobs that aren't just building roads and bridges," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who expressed disappointment with the decision. "This fits President Obama's criteria for what should be in the stimulus bill perfectly."

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