Obama Seeks GOP Backing for Stimulus

President Barack Obama says it appears Congress is 'on target' to approve a massive new stimulus package by Feb. 16. Video by AP
By Paul Kane and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 24, 2009

President Obama ramped up his personal lobbying campaign yesterday for an economic recovery package that would cost at least $820 billion, holding his first bipartisan gathering of congressional leaders at the White House and urging swift passage of the plan.

Obama, who has seen GOP support for the package evaporate in the past week, hinted that he is open to compromise on business tax breaks but also bluntly rejected some Republican proposals to reduce spending in the plan, lawmakers and aides said, arguing that he believes he has a mandate to promote his own ideas.

"I won," he reminded them, according to some who were in the room.

Obama hopes to receive broad bipartisan support in Congress for a recovery plan that he has said is essential to turning around the economy, with a goal of saving as many as 4 million jobs by cutting taxes by a minimum of $275 billion and spending at least $545 billion on infrastructure, renewable energy production and aid to states.

Republican resistance remained strong after yesterday's bipartisan meeting, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced that Obama will visit the Capitol on Tuesday for two meetings exclusively with Republicans on the eve of a planned House vote on the recovery package.

"What I think unifies this group is a recognition that we are experiencing an unprecedented, perhaps, economic crisis that has to be dealt with, and dealt with rapidly," Obama said as he began the meeting in the White House Cabinet Room. The president said he recognized that there were "still some differences around the table" and promised a "frank" conversation about them.

Republicans said afterward that they think Obama is sincere in seeking their input. "That tone will have to continue in some way, shape or form," Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the minority whip, said in an interview.

However, as Obama continued to invest his political capital in a bipartisan push, another Democratic leader suggested that it is up to Republicans to support the new president. "We had an election on November 4, and the American people voted overwhelmingly for the approach being offered by the Democrats," House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) said in an interview scheduled to air over the weekend on C-SPAN. "And I think my Republican friends ought to respect that."

The biggest dispute between Democrats and Republicans over the package is about tax cuts, which Obama's advisers said earlier this month would represent 40 percent of the legislation's cost but has shrunk to just a third of the total as congressional Democrats discarded several of Obama's tax-cut ideas.

Cantor presented Obama with an alternative GOP plan that included a reduction in marginal tax rates and no increased domestic spending that would result in higher deficits. Afterward, Cantor said the president rejected most of those ideas but remained open to increasing benefits for small businesses that, according to Republican calculations, would receive $41 billion in tax relief under the Democratic plan. Republicans are proposing a 20 percent rate cut in taxes on businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

The House is expected to consider the stimulus plan on Wednesday. In the Senate, a full floor debate is expected to begin Feb. 2, leaving two more weeks for approval and a reconciliation of differences between the two chambers' bills to meet the mid-February goal for passage.

Senate Democrats yesterday announced their own package of $275 billion in tax cuts, largely mirroring the House plan. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) said the proposals being assembled by Democrats are "the best ways to get folks working and get our economy moving again."

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