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To sell stimulus plan, Obama steps up to presidential bully pulpit

Obama held his first press conference Monday night, and by week's end will have visited three economically distressed cities.

By Staff writer / February 10, 2009

Addressing the nation from the White House Monday night, Obama said, 'I am the eternal optimist. I think that over time people respond to civility and rational argument.'

Ron Edmonds/AP

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Washington

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama is back on offense.

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After a rough couple of weeks, in which he aggressively wooed Capitol Hill Republicans with little to show for it, President Obama is going straight to the American people with his pitch for action on the economy.

By week’s end, Obama will have taken three forays on Air Force One to economically distressed cities – Elkhart, Ind., Fort Myers, Fla., and Peoria, Ill. – for televised town hall meetings, and held his first prime-time press conference as president.

In the end, there is little doubt that Obama will get to sign an $800 billion-plus stimulus package aimed at helping brake the nation’s steep economic decline. A House version has already passed, solely with Democratic votes. In the Senate, just enough Republicans were willing to go along with the Democrats to break a filibuster Monday, and that body appeared set to pass the stimulus plan Tuesday. But if he’s having such a difficult time getting Republicans to sign onto a plan rich in spending and tax cuts, how will he fare on more controversial matters, such as healthcare reform?

At the conclusion of his press conference Monday, Obama mused aloud that he gets a sense that “there's some ideological blockage there that needs to be cleared up.” But, he continued, “I am the eternal optimist. I think that over time people respond to civility and rational argument.”

That final flourish, in a press conference full of grim foreboding about the direction of the economy, seemed aimed at reinforcing the hopeful demeanor that helped elect Obama last November. Restoring consumer confidence is key to a recovery.

Earlier, Obama rejected the premise that Republicans had not been consulted in the drafting of the stimulus plan.

“You'll remember that when we initially introduced our framework, they were pleasantly surprised and complimentary about the tax cuts that were presented in that framework,” the president said. “Those tax cuts are still in there. I mean, I suppose what I could have done is started off with no tax cuts, knowing that I was going to want some, and then let them take credit for all of them. And maybe that's the lesson I learned.”

In a reply to Obama’s press conference, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio praised the popular president for “continuing to make the case for action from Congress” and asserted that congressional Democrats support a plan that relies on “slow-moving and wasteful Washington spending.”

By attacking Democrats on Capitol Hill, Representative Boehner was playing the percentages. A Gallup poll released Monday showed that Obama enjoys 67 percent public approval in his handling of the stimulus plan. Congressional Democrats have 48 percent approval, and congressional Republicans, just 31 percent.

Partisan politics alive and well