Jan. 27, 2009— -- President Obama went to Capitol Hill today to make a personal appeal to Republicans to support his economic stimulus plan, but he arrived just hours after GOP leaders had urged members to reject the bill unless there were major alterations.
As Obama ended his day with Republican lawmakers, the Treasury Department said today that it had distributed another $386 million to 23 banks in 16 states Friday. They were the first awards from the $700 billion federal bailout fund since Obama took office a week ago.
Today, the president met separately with GOP members of the House and Senate as debate began on the massive $825 billion combination of tax cuts, bailouts and public works spending.
"He wants to hear their ideas. If there are good ideas, and I think he assumes there will be, that we will look at those ideas," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Obama succeeded in convincing Democrats today to drop a provision in the bill that would expand family planning funding, something Republicans had objected to. But deleting the provision did not make Republicans sound more willing to vote for the bill.
The president arrived at the House about 12:30 p.m. with an entourage that included Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is a former Republican congressman, and top economic adviser Larry Summers.
"I would love to not have to spend this money," the president told the Republican House members, one person who was present told ABC News. But he cited the continuing cascade of lost jobs as evidence that the economy is still deteriorating.
The president stopped as he left the House more than an hour later and went to meet with Senate Republicans.
"I don't expect 100 percent agreement from my Republicans colleagues," he said, but hoped they could "keep politics to a minimum."
Obama is hoping to boost Republican support for the plan, which is so strongly opposed by the GOP that party aides say privately they expect fewer than 10 House Republicans to vote for it.
The Democrats, who control Congress, have sufficient votes to pass the bill when it comes to the floor Wednesday. Obama hopes to be able to sign it into law by mid-February.
But Obama is also hoping to make good on his campaign pledge for a new bipartisan atmosphere in Washington. That bipartisan spirit took a shot today from the pre-emptive strike by Republican leaders.
After Obama left the House, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he believed Obama was "sincere in wanting to hear our ideas."
Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana said they were "grateful for the outreach from the White House, but as grateful as we are, we've told the president the House Democrats have completely ignored" his call for cooperation.
Just hours before Obama arrived, however, Boehner told Republicans during a private caucus meeting that the $825 billion House version of the bill should not be supported by Republicans without major changes.
"Unless the speaker agrees to make changes, congressional Democrats should not count on our support," a Boehner press aide told ABC News.
Grassley Says GOP Not Part of the Deal
One of the Republicans complaints was that the bill contained funds to expand family planning funds for low-income families.
A Republican House lawmaker writing to ABC News from inside the House meeting with Obama said right before he arrived, "There was a fighting mood. We're against parts of the stimulus, just laughing over the spending on contraceptives to 'stimulate' the economy."
The controversial contraceptive provision was dropped today after Obama placed a call to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Monday. Waxman is the chairman of the committee that inserted the contraception provision into the stimulus package last week.
Obama asked him to remove the measure from the bill, according to a Democratic congressional aide familiar with the call, and the decision was made today to do so.
While the bill contains about $275 billion in tax cuts, which the Republicans support, it also contains about $550 billion in public works projects meant to create jobs, increase spending and bolster the country's infrastructure.
The GOP is opposed to such a large public works project that will substantially increase the national debt.
"All it does is burden our kids and their kids with more debt," Boehner said.
Hard feelings were also expressed in the Senate where Republicans said they were shut out of the design of the stimulus plan.
"Let no one be mistaken that this bill is the result of bipartisan negotiations," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in prepared remarks. "While Republicans were courteously consulted at the member and staff level, we were never at the negotiating table."
Democrats fired back. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., criticized GOP leaders for putting out marching orders before their meeting with the president.
"Being bipartisan does not mean having to lay down and say, 'We'll do whatever you want,'" Hoyer said. "Being bipartisan is saying, 'We'll talk, we'll figure it out. If we can agree, we'll agree.'"
"It takes two people to tango, and it takes two parties and two groups to be bipartisan," he said.
A note of urgency for the bill came with Monday's avalanche of layoffs, a day when more than 70,000 corporate job cuts were announced.
The White House also had to step in Monday to persuade Citigroup to cancel its order for a $50 million jet for its executives, which threatened to become the latest symbol of corporations continuing their lavish perks despite being buoyed with taxpayer money. Citigroup had been propped up with $45 billion in public cash.
To bolster support for the stimulus plan, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced new guidelines for the spending aimed at limiting the influence of lobbyists and elected officials in who gets the money and how it is spent.
The new rules would clarify who is eligible to receive federal help to reduce political influence in deciding which banks get taxpayer money.
The Obama administration is also armed with a new study by the Congressional Budget Office that concludes that much of the stimulus money would be spent in the next several years.
Republicans had cited an earlier budget office report that concluded that it would take several years for the country to begin spending just a small portion of the billions set aside in the stimulus plan for public works projects.