Jan. 23, 2009 -- In a bipartisan meeting with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders Friday, President Obama stressed the urgency of swiftly passing the economic stimulus package for the good of the American people and as a matter of political expediency.
"Look, we are all political animals here. If we don't do this, we may lose seats. I may not be re-elected," Obama said, according to a source in the meeting. "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 $825 billion stimulus package is making its way through Congress, due for a vote in the House next week -- without having received the vote of a single Republican in the two committees that considered the legislation.
The president today brought leaders of both parties into the Roosevelt room of the White House, hoping to gain support from GOP leadership and push the plan through.
"I recognize that there are still some differences around the table and between the administration and members of Congress about, particularly, details on the plan," Obama said. "What I think unifies this group is a recognition that we are experiencing an unprecedented, perhaps, economic crisis that has to be dealt with, and dealt with rapidly."
Obama expressed optimism that, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Democrats were "on target" for their President's Day time frame for passage of the plan.
House Republicans, who say they have barely been consulted on the stimulus package, came to the meeting prepared. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., and House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, brought handouts to the meeting to share their set of specific suggestions for the package being debated on Capitol Hill.
Republican leaders would like to make changes to the tax cuts in the stimulus package, framing it as a way to pick up GOP votes. They also suggested making unemployment benefits tax-free, allowing tax deductions for small businesses equal to 20 percent of income, and allowing businesses to carry losses from one year to another.
GOP Offers Obama Bipartisanship Choice
After discussion of Cantor's ideas, Obama weighed in, saying "Eric, I don't see anything crazy here."
On one of the issues, regarding whether the lowest individual tax rates should be cut from 15 percent to 10 percent and from 10 percent to 5 percent, Obama told Cantor that "on some of these issues we're just going to have ideological differences."
But Obama added, "I won. So I think on that one, I trump you."
Bipartisanship is not easy, but House Republicans came away thinking Obama was at least receptive to their ideas, although other Democrats appeared less receptive, sources said.
Some Republicans publicly seemed like they wanted to cooperate with the new president.
"Republicans will choose bipartisan solutions over partisan failures every single time," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"I'm concerned about the size of the package, and I'm concerned about some of the spending that's in there," Boehner said. "At this point, we believe that spending nearly $1 trillion is really more than what we ought to be putting on the backs of our kids and their kids."
Some of the spending in the House version of the bill includes $726 million for after school snack programs, $50 million in arts funding and $200 million to repair the National Mall, including grass maintenance -- leading some critics to question whether those outlays truly would be stimulative.
When the bill passed the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, not one Republican voted for it.
But the Obama team is pushing back.
"There's no question that the president believes that the bill is stimulative," White House Press Secretary Gibbs said in a news conference Friday. "Our analysis of the legislation right now is that 75 percent of this money will be spent in the next 18 months to create jobs and to get people working and to get the economy moving again."
Ample Negotiation Time Before Senate Vote
GOP leaders left today's meeting generally optimistic. Obama's tone and apparent willingness to work with members of Congress on expansions in small business tax cuts gave House Republicans the sense that he was committed to working together.
Obama encouraged Republicans to be in touch with Larry Summers to develop a specific proposal.
The Senate is slated to consider its own version of the stimulus package next week, so there's still ample room for negotiation on Capitol Hill. The Senate version is expected to spend less, and possibly cut taxes more than House Democrats are seeking.
But Obama seemed to make clear that he is taking ownership of the stimulus package. Presidents for years have started their day with a daily intelligence briefing about the threats in the world. In a sign of the times, Obama is now including a daily economic briefing in his schedule.