LIVEBLOG: Dozens gather to discuss proposed stimulus package

In the past few days, organizers using My.BarackObama.com have put together dozens of meetings throughout Colorado in living rooms, basements and coffee shops to discuss the economic stimulus package moving its way through Congress.

Is the Senate plan too heavy on tax cuts, or are proposed spending cuts too tame? Will the eventual legislation restore $40 billion originally intended to help states close widening budget gaps, or will fiscal hawks demand more cuts? Will Democrats accept a slimmed-down stimulus package in order to claim bipartisan support, even if not a single House Republican voted for it the first time around? These and more questions will be discussed across the country in coming days. Sunday night, we’ll see what a group of Jefferson County voters have to say as we liveblog an economic recovery meeting at a coffee shop in Golden.

In addition, the people behind My.BarackObama.com promise in an e-mail that President Obama plans to issue a video discussing the stimulus plan and to answer questions submitted by “ordinary Americans.” Submit your question or tell a tale from the economic front here.

Here’s how organizers describe Sunday night’s meeting at Higher Grounds Cafe in Golden:

Golden’s Economic Recovery Cafe Meeting Sunday February 8, 2009; 6:30-8:30pm (Saturday’s Meeting has reached its limit of 30 so we have planned a second one for Sunday.) The economic crisis is deepening, but President Obama and members of Congress have proposed a recovery plan that will put more than 3 million Americans back to work. You can learn more about how the plan will help your community by attending Golden’s Economic Recovery Cafe Meeting. Join us at Higher Grounds Cafe in Golden to watch a special video about the recovery plan and to have a conversation about our community’s economic situation.

Join us at 6:30 p.m. when we liveblog the discussion.

6:25 p.m. – About 20 people have gathered at the Higher Grounds Cafe in downtown Golden, across from the Table Mountain Inn, to discuss the stimulus. Alice Atkins and Patricia Reilly are the organizers, and are handing out agendas that include talking points about the stimulus plan. More folks are filtering in, people are ordering drinks and eating sandwiches — this is scheduled to last two hours, so people will need sustenance to make it through what promises to be a lively discussion.

Last night, more than 30 people showed up for the same agenda here. One couple left unhappy that they were unable to bring up a list of “shovel-ready” projects they wanted forwarded to the Organizing for America group, but instead felt the discussion was geared more toward selling the plan. The man and woman said they planned to get in touch with Rep. Ed Perlmutter, the Democrat who represents Golden in Congress and sits on the House Finance Committee, to share their suggestions.

6:30 p.m. – At least 32 people here — and another one just walking in the door — as the time approaches for the meeting to begin.

First on the agenda will be a video from President Barack Obama and another featuring Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who is also chairman of the Democratic National Committee, answering questions about the stimulus and what it “will mean for you.” Let’s get a head start and take a look at the video. Here’s Obama:

And Here’s Kaine:

6:35 p.m. – There’s a shortage of chairs. A few people find comfortable spots on the floor.

Patricia Reilly welcomes everyone and says she hopes the group worked out the kinks at the Saturday meeting. She acknowledges the Higher Grounds Cafe owner, who has made the coffee shop available for meetings and organizing during the campaign. A similar meeting took place here in December to gather ideas for health care reform, including stories from those who were at the meeting. “What we do tonight will be funneled to the appropriate teams in D.C.” Reilly says she was the field organizer for the Golden-Applewood team. She asks volunteers to raise their hands — most of the hands in the coffee shop go up. Reilly lists the organizations volunteers have joined up with — Jeffco Action Center, city government and other causes.

Reilly tells her own story, how the economic situation affects her family. Her husband, Gary, is nearing early retirement at Coors. The couple plans to move to Michigan and Patricia will be looking for a job there. Gary’s co-workers have lost retirement savings and it will take a long time for some to build their 401(k)s back up. A family member, who is over age 50, is having a “challenging time” finding work during the economic crisis.

6:45 p.m. – Alice Atkins, the other organizer of tonight’s meeting, introduces herself. She became involved in the Obama campaign at the end of the summer. “We are the one we’ve been waiting for,” an Obama campaign slogan, moved her a great deal. She says she could no longer tolerate not getting up and doing her part. “We have it in our hands to make the change happen that we voted for in November,” she says. She urges people to think small, because small turns into big, when considering how to start turning plans into reality.

Reilly says more than 30,000 questions were submitted via the Organizing for America Web site, and the videos from Obama and Kaine will answer some of them.

More than 3,200 meetings like this have been scheduled across America this weekend, Reilly says.

The lights go down in advance of showing the videos on the kind of screen usually used for slide projectors. A bit of difficulty getting the video to display properly on the screen. Briefly, two Barack Obamas welcome the crowd just slightly out of synch. The crowd offers advice to get the video playing. It’s the same video posted above.

“Economists agree we must act boldly,” Obama says in the video, pointing to an anticipated $1 trillion shortfall in the economy absent federal intervention. He lists jobs in a number of categories and mentions tax relief for workers as crucial parts of the stimulus bill. “And we’re going to do this with unprecedented transparency.” As soon as the stimulus plan is signed into law, www.recovery.gov “goes live, so you’ll be able to see where your tax dollars are going.”

Hearty, if brief, applause after the Obama video finishes. Including a couple latecomers, there are 37 people in the coffee shop, sitting or leaning against nearly every available surface.

7:00 p.m. – Kaine discusses the stimulus bill, ticks off points and then answers questions. Eric from Indiana wants to know whether infrastructure spending won’t take too long to take effect. Kaine says long-term growth, including energy, health care and infrastructure are essential. In Indiana, 79,000 jobs could be created or saved.

Adina from New Jersey wants to know about the huge deficits created by this bill. Kaine says act now or things will get worse. Unemployment could exceed 10 percent nationally, get worse in many communities, Kaine says. Act now but act responsibly — not exactly addressing what Adina asked about.

Ruth from Oakland asks how the money will go where it’s most needed. Kaine: An independent commission will determine where money goes, based on “need, not politics.” Plan adds $100 a month in unemployment benefits for many. The answers are getting in some points but not thoroughly answering the questions.

Mark from Maryland wants to know how this differs from trickle-down economics. Kaine says it’s investment in working families. More than 2 million Marylanders will get a tax cut, plus significant tax breaks for education.

Louise from New York City is “troubled” by shortage of infrastructure projects — now less than half the amount of tax cuts. Why compromise with Republicans if the stakes are so high? Kaine says the stakes are high, too high to play partisan games. Asking everyone to come together and support it. Says Obama has “made good on his promise” by reaching out. Tax cuts are for working Americans, not the wealthiest, Kaine says.

Anita in Missouri wants to know how the plan will help people in rural areas. Kaine says the plan bolsters unemployment insurance benefits. Broadband access throughout rural America is part of the plan. Again, not exactly responsive to Anita’s question, which had to do with rural Americans being far from the job centers.

Another pitch from Kaine for the transparency Web site.

The applause isn’t as punchy as after Obama’s more rousing message, but it’s there nonetheless.

The discussion continues and your liveblogger is there as residents share their stories about the economy and decide what action to take.

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Ernest Luning

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