NGOs prepare plans for Bush's budget

Groups in DC are ready to speak up against the President's proposed cuts to healthcare, education

Groups in DC are ready to speak up against the President's proposed cuts to healthcare, education

It is probably appropriate to call the 2007 federal budget a work in progress. A lot can change from the time the President submits his proposal to Congress to when it's actually approved. The proposed budget for 2007 includes significant cuts to a variety of domestic programs, including healthcare - a $36 billion reduction in Medicare spending over the next five years - and education. In coming months, groups likely to be hurt the most by proposed budget cuts will be raising their voices to try to prevent the cuts from being passed.

Indeed, the next few months should provide a frenzy of PR and public affairs activity. "The budget is the launching point for all the public affairs work that happens every year in [DC]," says Stan Collender, MD of Financial Dynamics' Washington office.

Several organizations use the federal budget proposal as a platform to discuss relevant issues and to spur on grassroots efforts. Wes Pedersen, director of communications and PR at the Public Affairs Council, notes that blogs will be the "weapon of choice" for many this year.

Zach Goldberg, manager of advocacy communications at the American Diabetes Association, calls the introduction of the budget a "jumping-off point" for some of the association's key issues. He points out an obvious example for his organization: The 2007 budget calls for reductions in diabetes research. In addition to media outreach, he says a big focus has been to initiate a grassroots effort among the association's members and volunteers, which includes a letter-to-the-editor and Op-Ed campaign.

"In a budget that big, it's tough to notice one or two programs [that are getting cut]," he says. "What we want to do is make sure elected officials and the public understand."

Outreach at the grassroots level is also at the heart of the efforts of the American Federation of Teachers, a union that comprises teachers, higher-education faculty, paraprofessionals, public employees, and a division of healthcare employees. Alex Wohl, director of public affairs, notes that much of the outreach so far has centered on educating its members about the proposed budget.

"We provide them with details of the budget proposal and the impact to our members and the people they represent," he says. "In an organization such as ours, that's a critical component - the grassroots level - in terms of reaching out to local leaders and local politicians. The goal here is first to educate and then to defeat."

Rather than engage heavily with the press, the Coalition on Human Needs, an alliance of national organizations working to promote policy for low-income people, reaches out to its member organizations with key messages they are meant to apply to their own tactical efforts. Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the organization, says an example of damaging proposals within the budget the group will extract for its own communications is that under the administration's proposals, 650,000 children will lose childcare by 2010.

Some groups are taking a different tack. Instead of pushing for changes in the budget, they are using its content as a news hook to push an existing viewpoint on an issue. Shelly Waters Booth, VP for policy and programs at Parents' Action for Children, says the organization used the President's recent budget proposal as a springboard to discuss healthcare coverage for children, a key issue for the group. Waters Booth says the organization sent out e-mails to 32,000 members of the organization asking to petition the President to stop Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program cuts. Next month, the organization will launch a health-insurance campaign that it hopes will build on the momentum that exists following the budget's release.

"The goal is to get a broad group of parents from across the country talking about the need for ensuring that all kids have healthcare coverage," she says.

"Nationally, there's going to be a dialogue about healthcare reform... so we'll continue to drumbeat on this issue."

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