Obama asks lawmakers to back stimulus bill

January 23, 2009 3:23:13 PM PST
President Barack Obama sought to dampen Republicans' complaints about the Democrats' massive economic revival package Friday with an offer to listen carefully to their ideas, too. But he gave no guarantees he'd accept any - and made a point of reminding them who won the November election. Obama promised to meet with congressional Republicans on their turf early next week after they and Democratic leaders thrashed out emergency tax-and-spending plans to revive the failing economy in a get-together at the White House on Friday. The House could vote on the $825 billion proposal the Democrats have worked out with Obama soon after the meeting at the Capitol.

With Democrats controlling the House, Senate and White House - and some economists calling for even more spending to stimulate the economy - it was far from certain the Republicans would be able to achieve any of their goals, which center on less spending and more tax cuts. Obama said Congress appears on target to have a bill at his desk by mid-February, and no Republican leaders disagreed.

At one point in Friday's meeting in the White House's Roosevelt Room, GOP Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona objected to a proposal to increase benefits for low-income workers who do not owe federal income taxes.

Obama replied in a friendly but firm way that an election had been held in November, "and I won. I will trump you on that," according to several people briefed by participants who took notes.

Later, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declared it too early to say whether Obama would be disappointed if the stimulus legislation passed with little or no Republican support. Already, key elements of the bill have been approved by a House committee with no Republican backing.

Obama associated himself Friday with the House version of the bill. Under it, workers making $75,000 per year or less would receive a $500 tax credit. Couples with incomes up to $150,000 a year would receive a $1,000 credit.

The bill also would boost the earned income tax credit for low-income workers and devote billions of dollars to help pay for college, to build roads and other structures, and to invest in alternative fuels and other longer-range projects that may not immediately stimulate the economy.

Before his meeting with the congressional leaders started, Obama acknowledged that the bill's $825 billion price tag is hard for some conservatives and deficit hawks to swallow.

"I know that it is a heavy lift to do something as substantial as we're doing right now," he said. "I recognize that there are still some differences around the table and between the administration and members of Congress about particular details on the plan. But I think what unifies this group is a recognition that we are experiencing an unprecedented, perhaps, economic crisis that has to be dealt with."

Obama also said that any legislation governing the use of an additional $350 billion in financial industry bailout money must include new measures to ensure accountability.

Congress' Democratic leaders stopped well short of promising to accept any of the Republicans' proposals. The House could vote on the measure a day after Obama's trip to Capitol Hill.

Republican leaders "had some constructive suggestions, which we'll review," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters after the White House meeting. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "I think the main thing that Republicans are asking for, and they're getting, is to be involved in the process."

Republicans, in fact, are asking for significant changes. They include giving a tax deduction for small businesses equal to 20 percent of their income; reducing the lowest individual income tax rates and granting a $7,500 credit for home buyers who make a down payment of 5 percent or more.

Congressional aides who were briefed on the White House meeting said Obama seemed more open to some type of help for businesses than to the other appeals from the Republicans, but his intentions were not clear.

After the meeting, House Republican leader John Boehner told reporters, "I'm concerned about the size of the package, and I'm concerned about some of the spending that's in there" that would not stimulate the economy promptly, if ever.

In a separate statement, he said of the GOP alternative, "Rather than spending too much, too late as the congressional proposal does, our proposals let the American people keep more of what they earn to spur investment, encourage savings and create more private sector jobs."

Democratic leaders tried to mitigate the impact of a Congressional Budget Office estimate that questioned administration claims that the government could spend the stimulus money fast enough to reduce joblessness quickly.

Reid said there was "significant discussion about the CBO numbers" at the White House meeting. He said Obama's budget director, Peter Orszag, who recently headed the CBO, told participants that the study analyzed only 40 percent of the pending stimulus bill and that "he would guarantee that at least 75 percent of the bill would go directly into the economy within the first 18 months."

Also on Friday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus unveiled a Senate version of the tax-cutting portion of the bill. Social Security recipients would get a bonus payment of $300.

The overall tax cuts and spending proposals in his version total $355 billion. It will be paired with $400 billion in further spending proposed by the Appropriations Committee on the Senate floor.

The $300 bonus for seniors and disabled people receiving Supplemental Security Income payments would cost $17 billion, and is perhaps the biggest difference between the House and Senate economic recovery plans.


Load Comments