WASHINGTON – Turning to his vast political network for the first time since the November election, President Barack Obama is asking his supporters to use election-style tactics to help him push his $3.6 trillion budget proposal.
Obama turned to his list of names -- it numbers almost 14 million -- to try to overwhelm Capitol Hill with phone calls and other direct contact with lawmakers, a test of how well his grass-roots network might be used as a tool in running the country. At the same time, he went on the stump in California and on television with the same style and fervor that earned him the presidency.
At stake: a federal budget carrying the bulk of Obama's campaign promises and, politically, the enthusiasm that energizes his online community.
In an online message, Obama adviser David Plouffe told supporters, "Right now, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finally confront the systemic problems that have held America back for far too long in energy, health care and education."
Beyond that opportunity to change public policy, it's also a potent political challenge for a new administration already looking at a re-election campaign. Millions of first-time voters and volunteers joined the campaign through the Internet, and keeping them engaged will be crucial in 2012.
"There was a lot of excitement during the campaign and we were talking about the importance of bringing about change," Obama said Thursday at a town-hall event in Los Angeles. "We are moving systematically to bring about change, but change is hard. Change doesn't happen overnight."
The president urged patience even as Organizing for America, as the re-election-campaign-in-waiting is called, published an Internet-based tool to help voters find their representatives in Congress. He urged supporters to make phone calls to Capitol Hill, regardless of political party.
The president also directed volunteers to return to the streets this weekend, as they did during the campaign.
"I'm asking you to head outside this Saturday to knock on some doors, talk to some neighbors, and let them know how important this budget is to our future," Obama said in a video message to supporters.
Organizers say more than 1,000 door-to-door canvassing activities are planned across the country to talk about the president's budget.
If they are successful, Obama will be handed a decisive win as he puts into law his campaign promises and a renewed sense of potential from his political supporters. If the budget fails -- lawmakers could reject it or seriously modify it -- then Obama faces a diminished position just two months in office.
Obama's first postelection test of his infrastructure brought lackluster results: Only 50,000 people participated in house parties to discuss the economy.
Political aides played down those numbers, arguing that the campaign had thousands of paid organizers and the re-election has only a skeleton staff so far.
Obama's trillion-dollar budget proposal faces resistance in Washington. To sway skeptical lawmakers, he spent two days in California talking with voters and visiting comedian Jay Leno's late-night talk show. He scheduled an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," set to air on Sunday. He plans a prime-time news conference Tuesday as part of a full-blown media campaign.
The strategy underscores his faith in his campaign skills and an ambitious budget that has even his political allies question. Some powerful Democratic lawmakers oppose his bids to nip farm subsidies and leave employer-paid health benefits untaxed, among other things. His political machine is asking supporters to call those lawmakers as well, not just GOP rivals.
The spending plan also projects a federal deficit of $1.75 trillion this year, by far the largest in history, that has made centrist Democrats nervous.
Republicans have vowed to fight Obama's budget proposals in Congress. Obama's core group of advisers plan to fight for it in Washington, but also on Main Street. It's that us-versus-Washington populist sentiment Obama's strategists are hoping gins up the faithful.
Obama understands the perception problem, given passing a spending plan is hardly as exciting as winning an election. His advisers chose the budget to debut their new mechanism, in part, because it is a vehicle for so many of Obama's campaign promises.
"The budget President Obama has proposed isn't the same-old document Washington has come to expect year after year," Plouffe said.
It's also not the same-old political machine designed to pass it.