After talks with Obama, GOP lawmakers still balk at stimulus bill
Republicans want more tax cuts, less spending in a package they warn could top $1 trillion.
Washington — In a bid to build a bipartisan vote for his $825 billion economic stimulus plan, President Obama took a rare presidential run up Capitol Hill today to talk directly to skeptical Republicans.
They listened, asked questions, made points, praised the visit, but did not commit to backing the plan, which faces its first vote in the House on Wednesday.
"We're not going to get 100 percent agreement, and we might not even get 50 percent agreement, but I do think people appreciate me walking them through my thought process," the president said, as he left a meeting with GOP senators just off the Senate floor.
"I hope I communicated a sincere desire to get good ideas from everybody," he added. "My attitude is this the first major piece of legislation we've worked on, and that, over time, some of these habits of consultation and mutual respect will take over, but old habits die hard."
In the run-up to today's meeting, House GOP leaders complained that their Democratic colleagues had drafted a purely partisan bill that left them out of the process. While praising the president for reaching out to minority views, Republican leaders are urging opposition to the plan when it comes to the floor on Wednesday.
"What congressional Democrats have put on the table is a wasteful and unfocused package that will create plenty of government programs and projects – but not nearly enough new, good-paying jobs," said House Republican leader John Boehner in a statement after Mr. Obama's visit on Tuesday.
The real cost of the plan will top $1.1 trillion, he added, citing a new estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, released Tuesday, that the interest costs to the federal government as a result of borrowing to pay for this plan will amount to $347 billion between 2009 and 2019. "The American people deserve better than the $1 trillion spending bill that the House will vote on tomorrow, and Republicans will continue reaching out to President Obama to craft a plan that reduces wasteful spending and helps create jobs through fast-acting tax relief for middle-class families and small businesses."
House Republicans, who praised the White House for including $300 billion in tax cuts in its initial plan, balked at changes in the House bill that reduced tax cuts to $275 billion.
"I tried to remind people that even with the modifications that have been made in the House, we still have $275 billion in tax cuts," the president said. "I tried to remind them that when it was $300 billion in the beginning when we first put our framework together, there was a lot of praise from the Republican side and a lot of grousing from my side of the aisle, and it hasn't changed that much."
On the Senate side, Republicans are urging the White House to enhance tax cuts and do more to solve the housing crisis, including a provision so that people facing foreclosure can refinance their homes at a 4 percent mortgage rate. They also urged Democrats to zero out proposed social spending that they say will not deliver quick stimulus to the economy.
At the moment, no Republican in either the House or Senate has endorsed the plan. "Until we have an opportunity to participate, I have urged all my colleagues to continue to discuss," said Sen. Christopher Bond (R) of Missouri, after the meeting.
Still, the mood at the meeting with the president was respectful and a dramatic change from the highly partisan tone in the previous Congress, said Republicans who attended the meeting.
"It wasn't an argument. It's the kind of discussion I think that the American people expect responsible leaders to have with each other," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona, the Senate Republican whip. "But there will come a point in time when Republicans will want to see their ideas included in legislation, not simply considered."
In response to similar arguments, Democrats are making a simple point: We won. (Press reports of a White House meeting with Republicans last week quote Obama as responding to Senator Kyl with that phrase.)
Referencing that exchange, Kyl added: "They won, and that's true, but the question is, how do you want to govern? Do you want to govern with a 100 percent Democratic solution? I don't think President Obama wants to govern that way."
As he exited the Senate on Tuesday, Obama made a different point: "The main thing is to make sure that everyone understands how urgent the situation is."
"The problems our economy face are not going to go away easily. We've got to deal with them swiftly and seriously. That's what my administration is committed to doing. That's not a Democratic or a Republican issue, that's an American issue," he said.