‘I Won:’ President Obama Works to Be Bipartisan But Shows There Are Clear Limits

Jan 23, 2009 4:19pm

In an hour-long private meeting with Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders this morning on the economic stimulus package, President Barack Obama stressed the urgency of getting the $825 billion stimulus plan passed quickly for the good of the country, and mentioned the political stakes for both parties.

According to a source present at the meeting, President Obama said, "Look, we are all political animals here, If we don’t do this, we may lose seats. I may not be re-elected. But none of that’s going to matter if we don’t pass this because the economy will be in a crisis and the American people will be hurting."

The meeting was attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn D-SC, and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Vice President Joe Biden, National Economic Council director Larry Summers, Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel were also in attendance.

Despite being the lowest person on the totem pole in attendance, sources say the ideas presented by Cantor — who brought handouts to the meeting — provided some of the day’s most engaging moments.

House Republicans have been complaining about not being consulted, and as Cantor explained the details of some of the ideas he and his GOP colleagues would like to see in the package, President Obama read the one-pager and told him, "Eric, I don’t see anything crazy in here."

Among some of the things Republicans requested: tax deductions for some small businesses, making unemployment benefits tax free and a provision that would let businesses losing money carry the losses over to pay fewer taxes in a different fiscal year.

Mr. Obama did voice opinion on some differences on the issue of whether the lowest individual tax rates should be cut from 15 percent to 10 percent and from 10 percent to 5 percent.

As the president, he had told Kyl after the Arizonan raised objections to the notion of a tax credit for people who don’t pay income taxes, Obama told Cantor this morning that "on some of these issues we’re just going to have ideological differences."

The president added, "I won. So I think on that one, I trump you."

After the meeting, Boehner said Republicans relayed their concerns to Obama about the size and spending of the economic stimulus package during the meeting. He specifically mentioned a provision in the bill that would allow 50 states to offer Medicaid family planning service, like contraceptives, with the federal government’s 9-to-1 match. Republicans say that whether this is good public policy, it has nothing to do with an economic stimulus.

While Republican leaders felt that Obama was at least receptive to their ideas, unlike their Democratic counterparts, they continued to express reservations about the plan despite the meeting.

"How you can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives — how does that stimulate the economy?" Boehner said at a news conference following the meeting. "You can go through a whole host of issues in this bill that have nothing to do with growing jobs in America."

The bill will be taken up for a vote in the House next week. Among a few elements in the bill — $726 million for after-school snacks, $50 million for the NEA, $44 million to repair the USDA, and $200 million to work on the National Mall, including grass.

– Jake Tapper and Huma Khan

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein contributed to this report

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