President Obama welcomed the rare Republican supporter of his economic stimulus bill today when Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas arrived in the capital to lobby GOP senators to vote for it.
Douglas, who is vice chairman of the National Governors Association, is bucking his party over Obama's massive economic bailout plan.
In a brief photo op with Douglas, Obama said, "What we can't do is let very modest differences get in the way of the overall package moving forward quickly."
Douglas sat next to Obama in the Oval Office and said, "If I were writing it, it might look at little different. But the essence of a recovery package is essential to get the nation's economy moving."
Debate on the Senate version of the bill, which could total $900 billion, began today, and Obama said he believes that with changes, the bill will receive significant Republican support.
To sweeten the deal, Obama said that he would set up a board to keep track of how the stimulus money is spent.
"One of the things we're going to do is put together an independent board on the recovery package that actually looks at these programs and the money before it goes out the door," the president told NBC News Sunday during a sitdown before the Super Bowl. His remarks were released today.
Obama wouldn't comment on reports that his administration is considering creating a bank to buy up the toxic debts that are weighing down banks' balance sheets.
"The basic principle that we're going to have to see some of this debt written down; that the government is going to have to support some banks; that others that are not viable, that essentially we're going to have do something with those assets," he said.
The president will strategize today with the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate.
"I am confident by the time we actually have the final package on the floor that we are going to be able to see substantial support and people are going to say this is a serious effort," he told NBC News.
The prediction seems at odds, however, with mounting GOP opposition to the package.
The House version of the bill was approved last week without a single Republican vote, and over the weekend the Republican National Committee's new chairman, Michael Steele, urged Republicans in Congress to reject the bill.
In an interview with USA Today, Steele said he applauded the refusal by House Republicans to give a single vote to the stimulus bill and urged GOP senators to "kill" it unless it is drastically changed.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,, who lost the presidential election to Obama, kept up the criticism today on "Good Morning America." McCain praised Obama's willingness to meet with Republicans last week but said that Democrats in the House and Senate "really didn't negotiate at all with Republicans," and said the result is not a stimulus bill.
"This is a spending bill. This is the spending projects that frankly the more liberal members of Congress who have wanted to spend for a long time. It doesn't cut payroll taxes. It doesn't cut business taxes. It doesn't have a provision for when we start reducing this deficit."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted today that Obama is meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Dick Durbin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
"I hope he's going to be able to get the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate in line," he said during a news conference today.
Obama and some Senate Democrats have indicated a willingness to accommodate Republican suggestions and objections to pick up GOP support.
"I've done extraordinary outreach, I think, to Republicans because they had some good ideas and I want to make sure we get those ideas incorporated," Obama said Sunday.
Democrats Launch Ad Campaign Against House GOP Members
Democrats are hoping to attract some GOP votes by adding tax breaks, cutting spending and increasing infrastructure spending on the nation's roads and bridges.
"Only 5 percent of this bill goes to roads and infrastructure, and you're trying to tell the American people this is an infrastructure bill?" Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."
Democrats plan to offer an amendment with $20 billion to $30 billion in infrastructure spending to the stimulus.
The president said programs in the bill that have nothing to do with creating jobs would be removed, and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has a long list of items he calls wasteful in the current legislation, including $248 million for furniture for the new Department of Homeland Security Building, $25 million for salary increases at the FBI and $75 million for smoking-cessation programs.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., suggested Sunday that the pressure was on the Democrats, not the Republicans.
"I see support for this legislation eroding. I think the more people around the country see of it, the angrier they get because it's very wasteful," Kyl said.
Despite Obama's conciliatory language, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is fighting back with political ads aimed at 28 Republican members of Congress. The committee's Putting Families First campaign is also sending e-mails to 3 million voters and making nearly 100,000 phone calls denouncing the House GOP's refusal to support the bill.
"House Republicans just don't get it," the DCCC said in a statement. "They celebrate being the party of no and status quo."