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Marc Morial on NUL's Pull With Obama

The Urban League's CEO tells The Root how the Tea Party affected his group's influence at the White House.

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TR: The information on your website is all about jobs and economic empowerment. But considering the current recession, what impact do you think you're having on national policy?

MM: I thought at the beginning of the Obama administration that we had a great deal of impact on the structure and design of the stimulus [package]; we had a great deal of impact in helping the passage of health reform and bank reform.

We needed a health bill. Finally we had a chance. We had a president that would put his neck out, and we put tremendous effort behind passage of that legislation, influencing Congress. [Take] bank reform, which includes provisions against predatory lending. We had a great deal of impact, supportive impact on the passage of legislation.

What has changed, I think, is the backlash of the right. It has been very well organized, very systematized. It's been a coherent message coming from the right in the minds of the Tea Party. You see it being played out by the [right's] utilization of the debt [ceiling] limit to elevate a budget-cut scenario. That has changed the dynamic very dramatically in a two-year period. We're in a bit of a defensive posture trying to protect the things that are important to us.

TR: Do you feel that you have less influence on the Obama administration now than two years ago?

MM: We have less impact on the ultimate course of legislation because of the Tea Party; they have managed to create caution in middle-of-the-road Democrats and middle-of-the-road Republicans. They've been so strident.

There's a tendency by the Tea Party to overreach. That's why you see polls shifting hard [toward compromise] underneath this budget debate. Mitch McConnell probably saw it first: "I've got to put something out there. I don't want to be tied up in this scorched-earth policy."

I'm a big believer that public opinion can sway like a pendulum. We need a direct job-creating program. We need additional fiscal [stimulus] measures, whether it's two-thirds spending and one-third some targeted tax relief.

What we need to do as a nation from a strict economic policy, the political will is not there. There's a segment of the population that [believes] the biggest threat to the future of the nation is the debt. I'm convinced the government needs a fiscal plan. I'm not convinced that debt in the short term is the biggest threat to the future of the country.

TR: You're close to corporations, and you have corporate execs on your board that are sitting on trillions of dollars. They're not spending and they're not hiring. Why?