Obama Urges GOP to Keep Politics to a Minimum on Stimulus

Published January 27, 2009

| FoxNews.com

President Obama has privately promised Republicans that he is willing to make changes in the $825 billion economic stimulus plan on the eve of a key vote.

"The American people expect action," Obama said Tuesday as he shuttled between closed-door meetings with House and Senate Republicans on a trip to the Capitol that blended substance with political symbolism. 

The meetings resulted in a mutual desire to find solutions for the economy that are not ideologically driven, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

"I do think there is a genuine sense of cooperation that is involved in the meetings. I think we will have Republican support for this bill," he said, noting that the negotiations with Republicans on tax and spending policies aren't over. "I don't think today was the beginning or the end or just part of that process."

Gibbs did not say what the president was considering coming out of suggestions offered by Republicans, but not one item can fix the economy. Confronted with the scenario that maybe only a dozen Republicans would support the bill that is expected to face a vote Wednesday, Gibbs said, "We'll take what we can get."

He added that the process will keep moving after the vote.

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill earlier in the day, Obama said he understands the concerns of House Republicans but the massive economic recovery package he has proposed is aimed at getting the country out of the ditch it's in and on the right track. 

Obama said he is "absolutely confident" that compromises can be reached, "but the key right now is to make sure we keep politics to a minimum."

"There is some legitimate philosophical differences with parts of my plans that the Republicans have, and I respect that. In some cases, they just may not be as familiar with what is in the package as I would like. I don't expect 100 percent agreement but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people's business right now," he said. 

House GOP leaders said they were pleased with the conversation with Obama. Several said they still had the message -- listen to our suggestions and use them. 

"The door of our conference will stay open to this president," said GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said the problem for Republicans isn't negotiating with the president, who has "serious intent," but working with House Democrats. 

"We are hopeful that (the president) can impose upon Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi to adopt the same attitude (as him) because frankly it has not been forthcoming whatsoever. There have been no meetings with Speaker Pelosi and Republicans. There have already been three between the president and Republicans in the House," he said.

"We have yet to see one Republican proposal included in this plan," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington before the meeting.

Obama said the "statistics every day underscore the urgency of the situation." He said Americans want to go back to work, gain energy independence, better schools and stronger infrastructure and they want all of it done "wisely so that we're not wasting taxpayer money."

Obama added his proposal is "just one leg in a multi-legged stool." He also wants Congress and his administration to develop tighter regulations, more controls on the release of money to help shore up financial institutions and greater coordination with other countries. 

Of chief concern to Republican leaders is the amount of spending and the tax approach outlined in the proposal being considered by lawmakers this week. Many Republicans remain skeptical of provisions they say don't match the talk about job creation.

"We have concerns that the plan that House Democrats are going to bring to the floor will not work," said House Minority Leader John Boehner before the meeting. "And at the end of the day, our big move today will be to ask the president to help us. Help us make this plan better so that it will put Americans back to work." 

Boehner said afterward that he thought many in the conference and the president himself "enjoyed the conversation."

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter said before the meeting that he plans to tell Obama that he likes the approach that he's offered, but doesn't see that being followed on Capitol Hill.

"It's line after line after line of favorite liberal spending programs and it amounts to a big government bill not a job creation," Vitter told FOX News.

But Republicans did not offer any of their own changes to the Senate package that was voted out of the Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning on a largely party line vote of 21-9.
All the Democrats on the panel approved the bill while 9 Republicans voted against it.

Of the four Republicans who voted for the nearly $830 billion package, three -- Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Kit Bond of Missouri -- made it clear they were just voting to move the process along, reserving the right to oppose the bill in the end on the floor.

On the House side, Republicans rallied the rank-and-file to oppose measures that they say include too much spending and not enough tax incentives. Several pointed to examples of $4 billion for community development groups and millions more for the National Endowment of the Arts. More than 200 amendments had been sent to the House clerk on the legislation headed for debate on Wednesday. 

The version sent to the Senate calls for about $190 in assistance like Medicaid to the states and an extension of unemployment benefits; about $365 billion for infrastructure and science; and $275 billion in tax provisions. The Senate was also expected to add a patch for the Alternative Minimum Tax, which hits middle class taxpayers hardest. That would cost $70 billion or so in 2009, which would bring the total package to about $900 billion.

According to the Congressional Budget Office about $608 billion, or 73 percent of the $830 billion, would be spent in 2009 and 2010. The quicker the money gets spent, the more stimulative it is, say economists.

The Democratic version in the House calls for about 64 percent to be spent in the first two years. Pelosi has said she thinks Congress can get a bill to the president's desk by the President's Day recess next month. 

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen said that lawmakers who say no to the recovery plan are going to have to explain to constituents "why at this critical point in our history ... why they didn't support the economy."

He added that Democrats have included net operating loss and energy tax provisions preferred by Republicans and suggested that Obama has worked overtime to get GOP support.

"So it's unfortunate that the signs that we are hearing indicate that Republicans aren't giving this as good a look as I would have hoped," he said.

Neither Republicans nor Obama have indicated where they may be willing to make changes to the legislation, but both sides have said they don't have any "pride of authorship" of the huge package. 

In a sign that Obama is willing to compromise, the president told Democrats to jettison from the package family planning funds for low-income people. Republicans have criticized the provision as an example of wasteful spending that would neither create jobs nor otherwise improve the economy.

"He asked them to take it out he established a set of principles for spending to boost economic growth over the course of a two-year period and the contraceptive funding was not part of those principles," said Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton. Burton said the contraceptive funding issue had become a "lightning rod" and that without it the large bill had a better chance of winning bipartisan support.

FOX News' Trish Turner and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.

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