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Is Reaching Out Futile?

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, January 26, 2009; 1:06 PM

In his first weekly address from the White House, President Obama on Saturday described his proposed $820 billion economic stimulus plan in more detail and appealed for public support.

"[I]f we act now and act boldly; if we start rewarding hard work and responsibility once more; if we act as citizens and not partisans and begin again the work of remaking America, then I have faith that we will emerge from this trying time even stronger and more prosperous than we were before," he said.

The public overwhelmingly supports him. According to Gallup, even a plurality of Republicans think he's doing a good job.

But, of course, it's not the public that must approve his plan, it's Congress -- that dysfunctional and widely despised institution that by all appearances still lives and breathes partisan politics.

Some sort of stimulus package will inevitably make it into law. But whether it passes with meaningful support from both parties will be the first practical test of Obama's "new politics."

Will he be able to get Republican support? And if so, how and how much? Will he simply try to peel away the few Republican moderates in Congress by including tax cuts and accountability in his proposal? Will he make major concessions to win over the rank-and-file? Or will he drop the hammer -- and warn Republicans that their lack of support risks infuriating voters?

And if Republicans don't go along in big numbers, would that mean Obama's visions of bipartisanship were a bit premature? Or would it mean that it's the GOP leadership that is out of step with the times?

Officially, the White House is still stressing areas of agreement. After Obama's meeting on Friday with congressional leaders from both parties, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters: "I think there was a lot of agreement in that room this morning about the notion that we are facing an economic crisis unlike we've seen in quite some time. There was an agreement that we must act quickly to stimulate the economy, to create jobs, to put money back in people's pockets. And there was a commitment to ensuring that the funds that are appropriated to do that are spent quickly."

Here is some of what Obama had to say about his stimulus plan in his weekly address: "It's a plan that will save or create three to four million jobs over the next few years, and one that recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment - the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work even as, all around the country, there's so much work to be done. . . .

"I know that some are skeptical about the size and scale of this recovery plan. I understand that skepticism, which is why this recovery plan must and will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my Administration accountable for these results. We won't just throw money at our problems - we'll invest in what works. Instead of politicians doling out money behind a veil of secrecy, decisions about where we invest will be made public, and informed by independent experts whenever possible. We'll launch an unprecedented effort to root out waste, inefficiency, and unnecessary spending in our government, and every American will be able to see how and where we spend taxpayer dollars by going to a new website called recovery.gov."

The White House Web-posted more details on this page and in this report.

Reaching Out

Obama is expected to attend Republican caucus meetings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Whether there's movement on either or both sides after that should be telling.


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