By David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Vice President Biden voiced surprise at the criticism some House liberals have voiced about the administration's economic stimulus plan and said yesterday that he is holding out hope that the final version of the measure will attract support from "more than a handful of Senate Republicans and more than a couple dozen in the House."
In an interview in his White House office as the Senate passed its $838 billion rewrite of the package of tax cuts and spending programs designed to halt the economic falloff, Biden signaled that the administration may try again this week to make the bill more appealing to at least some in the GOP.
Biden said he understands why many Republicans might want to "wait and see what is in the final version" rather than be "the first to jump in the pool." But he said he thinks that "there are a couple dozen [Republicans] who would not have voted no if their votes had decided" the fate of the legislation. And Biden applauded the Senate for writing in changes that "make it much more palatable to Republicans."
His remarks seemed to challenge the views of some liberal members of the House and commentators on the left who argue that President Obama has made too many concessions to the Republicans by limiting the size of the stimulus bill and allowing much of it to take the form of tax cuts.
"The House guys complain that you [in the administration] are rolling us," Biden said. "We're not rolling anyone. We're looking to get 60 votes," the minimum needed to avoid a Senate filibuster on final passage of the conference report.
His comments set the stage for what may be the first bruising intraparty fight of the new administration.
Biden plunged back into the debate on the stimulus plan after returning from his first overseas assignment, representing the administration at an international security conference in Munich.
He said he received a "very good" response from Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov when he said that the Obama administration is ready to push the "reset button" on its relations with Moscow.
At the beginning of their bilateral talk, "he was asking, 'Is this for real?' " Biden said. "But then we got into very specific discussions," covering Iran, Afghanistan, nuclear arms and other issues.
Biden said his impression is that Russia is looking to establish "a long-term economic relationship" with the United States. He attributed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's changed attitude to the fact that "all of a sudden, oil is no longer $190 a barrel," cutting deeply into Russia's foreign earnings.
Biden said that there is a desire in both capitals to find a mechanism for continuing bilateral negotiations, but that no specific arrangements will be made until Obama meets with Putin.
Other administration sources said that there have been discussions within the White House about entrusting Biden with the lead role in negotiating with Russia and China but that no final decision has been made.
In his conversations with other European diplomats, Biden said he told them that "the good news and the bad news is we will be back." Over the next few months, leading up to the NATO summit, Washington will consult widely with its allies on policy changes on a broad range of critical issues. But when new policies are formulated, "we're going to expect you not just to give your opinion but to pick up your oar," he said.