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Obama courts unions on health reform

Wed., Sept. 16, 2009

AFL-CIO backs public option

PITTSBURGH – Shoring up a key part of his political base, President Barack Obama turned to blue-collar crowds Tuesday to rally support for health care overhaul and claim credit for policies that have “stopped our economic free fall.”

He found a receptive audience at the AFL-CIO convention, where delegates to the nation’s largest labor federation were passing a resolution calling for changes to health care that include a government-run plan to compete with private insurance companies.

“Few have fought for this cause harder, and few have championed it longer than you, our brothers and sisters in organized labor,” Obama told more than a thousand cheering union members. “You’re making phone calls, knocking on doors and showing up at rallies because you know why this is so important.”

His appearance before the AFL-CIO – and earlier at a General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio – was part of Obama’s aggressive new effort to sell his health care overhaul following a speech last week to a joint session of Congress. He has another health care rally scheduled for College Park., Md., on Thursday and is appearing in six network television interviews Sunday and Monday.

Incoming AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka sought to erase any doubts that labor would stand behind Obama, even though the president has left the door open to proposals that do not include a government-run insurance option.

“The president just said he’s going to fight for the public option,” Trumka told reporters. “We are going to fight with him to make sure the public option gets done.”

Obama praised organized labor for creating a middle class and propelling the economy forward during last century. He said labor must help push the economy ahead now.

“One of the fundamental reasons I ran for president was to stand up for working families,” Obama said. “When our middle class succeeds, that’s when the United States of America succeeds. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

At the General Motors plant, Obama claimed credit for an improving economy. He defended his administration’s intervention to prevent the collapse of automakers. He also told GM employees that their company has retooled itself and is heading back to a solid business, in part, because of its work force.

“Your survival and the success of our economy depended on making sure that we got the U.S. auto industry back on its feet,” Obama said, standing near a production line where compact Chevrolet Cobalts are produced.

He said those small cars were among the most popular under his temporary cash for clunkers program that offered drivers up to $4,500 to buy more fuel-efficient automobiles. General Motors has increased production of the compact auto and rehired laid-off workers to restore a second shift here.

“Because of the steps we have taken, this plant is about to shift into high gear,” Obama said.

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