President Obama Engages With NLC

October 31, 2011
by Stacey Levitt

Last week, NLC led a group of nearly 150 city leaders from across the country to a White House briefing with Cabinet and senior members of the President's Administration followed by a meeting and reception with the President. The group of leaders consisted of NLC officers, board members, advisory council members, leadership group chairs and vice chairs, state municipal league directors and their presidents and other local elected officials.

Representing the Administration at the meeting were: Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the President; Bill Daley, chief of staff to the President; Cecilia Muñoz, White House director of intergovernmental affairs; Shaun Donovan, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation; Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency administrator; Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council; and Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

Following the meeting, President Obama hosted city leaders at a reception in the East Wing of the White House and echoed the messages expressed by his Administration earlier in the day, calling for increased collaboration and assuring all in the room that the White House stands together with local governments.

"Today's events represent an important step in ensuring that the White House knows what our communities need," NLC President James Mitchell said. "NLC and city leaders stand ready and willing to partner with the Administration to foster economic growth at the local and national levels."

The four-hour meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building began with welcome remarks from David Agnew, White House deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, NLC President James E. Mitchell Jr., councilmember, Charlotte, N.C., and NLC First Vice President Ted Ellis, mayor, Bluffton, Ind.

These remarks were followed by presentations from the Administration representatives. Each provided an update on issues important to cities and towns and responded to questions from the audience. Each also encouraged city leaders to join them in taking the debate on federal policy issues outside of Washington, so that congressional lawmakers could more easily grasp the urgent needs of local communities and the citizens they serve and be compelled to pass legislation that would assist in meeting those needs.

At a time when Congress remains gridlocked on issues involving the federal budget, and fiscal conditions in cities continue to weaken as city leaders confront the persistent effects of the downturn, city leaders in the meeting urged the President and his Administration to continue to support families and local communities and to resist calls to abandon federal programs to cities. They also spoke candidly about the need for members of Congress to put aside their differences and do more to create and save jobs in local communities, to invest at the local level in the nation's transportation infrastructure, to fix the nation's broken immigration system and to support local community and economic development initiatives.

A common refrain by all of the Administration speakers was enthusiasm for the President's $447 billion jobs proposal, which NLC supports, to accelerate job growth and economic recovery through investments to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, protect first responder and education jobs, and provide tax relief. All stressed the need for Congress to pass the proposal now, rather than waiting until after the 2012 election.

In the discussion on transportation infrastructure, a federal policy priority for NLC, Secretary LaHood emphasized the need for a long-term surface transportation reauthorization proposal. City leaders praised the Administration's efforts to get more transportation dollars directly to local communities and underscored the need for this country to establish a 21st century transportation system that includes investments in passenger and high-speed rail, streetcars and public transit in order to support a 21st century economy. LaHood agreed and warned that a series of short-term highway bill extensions is not enough to be able to pursue visionary achievements both at the local and national levels.

In her remarks, Muñoz described a broken immigration system and the need for federal action to fix it. She praised NLC and city officials for their efforts over the years to lobby Congress to enact comprehensive reform and challenged local officials to help reframe the immigration debate to emphasize the benefits of immigration to our economy and our society. She also called on local leaders to be vocal with their congressional delegations about the need for one national immigration system - rather than a patchwork of 50 different state plans - that balances enforcement with integration efforts.

During the briefing, city leaders also urged the White House to support preserving the tax exemption for municipal bonds that support infrastructure investment in local communities and praised regulatory streamlining efforts within the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation.

The meeting closed with both the Administration and NLC pledging to work together to keep the pressure on Congress to do more to grow the economy in local communities and the nation.

After the meeting, Mitchell said, "We deeply appreciated the opportunity to continue a dialogue with the President and his Administration and to have the voices of cities and towns heard in our nation's capital. It is critical that our leaders in Washington remember that the path to overall recovery and job creation runs through America's hometowns."

See the next issue of 
Nation's Cities Weekly for more photos of NLC's meetings at the White House.