Republicans Urged To Back Relief Package

President Barack Obama met with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill as he seeks support for his proposed economic stimulus plan. Video by AP
By Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On the eve of a House vote on a massive spending and tax-cut package, President Obama yesterday pressed Republicans to hold their fire on his economic stimulus legislation, urging them "to keep politics to a minimum" as the bill nears the finish line.

Obama devoted nearly three hours to separate closed-door meetings with House and Senate Republicans, an investment that is unlikely to result in new support for the relief package but could help clear a path to final passage. Participants in the meetings said Obama conceded that both the House and Senate versions of the bill had been larded with Democratic spending priorities and sought to reassure GOP lawmakers that their concerns would receive consideration during final negotiations.

As a show of good faith, Obama persuaded House Democrats to drop a $335 million Medicaid provision funding contraception programs that conservatives had protested, and also reiterated an earlier pledge to consider more small-business tax relief.

But the final product is certain to fall well short of the Republican ideal of seeing a package heavy with tax breaks and light on new domestic spending, and both the White House and Democratic leaders worry that GOP lawmakers will use procedural tactics to stall a final vote as they seek to erode support for the plan with the public. The big Democratic majority in the House makes it all but certain the bill will pass the chamber today.

For Obama, the stimulus represents the first step in a broader effort to address the economy's structural problems and to prevent a steeper decline, a complex process that could cost many hundreds of billions in additional funding, and is likely to require Republican cooperation.

"The recovery package that we have proposed and is moving its way through Congress is just one leg in a multi-legged stool," Obama told reporters during a break between the two sessions with Republicans. "We're still going to have to have much better financial regulation; we've got to get credit flowing again; we're going to have to deal with the troubled assets that many banks are still carrying."

But he acknowledged that the new era of bipartisanship he promised as a candidate has not firmly taken hold. "Old habits die hard," Obama said.

The House is scheduled to vote tonight on an $825 billion stimulus proposal aimed at creating 4 million jobs and giving individuals and businesses an infusion of cash. The bill includes $275 billion in tax cuts and $550 billion in spending on roads and bridges, alternative-energy development, health-care technology, unemployment assistance, and aid to states and local governments.

The Senate is expected to consider a separate bill next week. Last night, the Finance and Appropriations committees passed parts of the stimulus bill that total about $888 billion, clearing the way for debate to begin in the full chamber.

The escalating cost of the legislation has resulted in the rapid shedding of GOP support for the measure. Even after Obama's appearance, only about a dozen House Republicans said they remained open-minded about backing the legislation. That group was invited to the White House last night for a final lobbying session with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Obama officials said they were realistic about their prospects. "We've all seen votes in this town where a few Republicans sometimes are hard to come by or a few Democrats are hard to come by," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. "We'll take what we can get tomorrow."

In lengthy exchanges with Obama, Republicans expressed concern that the legislation would add to an already soaring deficit, complained that they had been left out of the drafting process, and vented that many provisions would not make an immediate impact. Obama acknowledged during the House session that certain extraneous provisions had worked their way into the bill's text.

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