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Obama Works on Stimulus Package with Key Congressional Leaders

January 23, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: President Obama labored today on the slumping economy and congressional efforts to pass a stimulus package. Ray Suarez has our Obama presidency working day three report.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: It is great to see you. We are here together, once again, a couple of weeks after our first meeting…

RAY SUAREZ: President Obama welcomed a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to the White House this morning to hear their thoughts and try to ease Republican concerns over the $825 billion economic recovery package.

BARACK OBAMA: I know that it is a heavy lift to do something as substantial as we’re doing right now. I recognize that there are still some differences around the table and between the administration and members of Congress about particular details on the plan.

But 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.

And, you know, I’ve asked Larry Summers to give me a daily economic intelligence briefing so that we are monitoring what’s happening, and, frankly, the news has not been good. Each day brings, I think, greater focus on the problems that we’re having not only in terms of job loss, but also in terms of some of the instabilities in the financial system.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELLk, R-Ky., Senate minority leader: I do think we’ll be able to meet the president’s deadline of getting the package to him by mid-February.

Some Republican opposition

RAY SUAREZ: And while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he thought they could meet Mr. Obama's deadline, the House Republican leader, John Boehner, warned the bill needed major reconstructive surgery before he would support it.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, House minority leader: 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, because at the end of the day, this is not our money to spend. We're borrowing this money from our kids.

And so we've got to -- we have to find a package that's the right size. You know, if we've got to come back and revisit this later this year or next year, we can deal with that at that time.

But I think the most important point that we all agreed in the room is that we have to do this right. It has to work. Obviously, we're Republicans. We've got ideas that lowering tax rates and allowing people to keep more of what they earn will allow them to spend that money, invest that money or save it, all of which are good for the economy.

JOURNALIST: Leader Boehner, Leader Boehner, you had pretty -- three strong words in your reaction to the Democratic House proposal. What was your message to President Obama?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: That, you know, I'm concerned about the size of the package and I'm concerned about some of the spending that's in there. How you can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives, how does that stimulate the economy?

You can go through a whole host of issues in this bill that have nothing to do with growing jobs in America and helping people keep their jobs.

RAY SUAREZ: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic partners agreed the size of the package was a consideration, but she said the primary concern should be on the bill's function, not its form.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif, speaker of the House: I believe that the standard that must be met is, are the initiatives in the bigger package able to create jobs in the near-near, in other words, some kind of a time release that it creates jobs now, and then it continues a foundation of economic stability as we go forward?

And so it's not just about how big the package is. It's about how fast jobs are created and how those initiatives that were added in the spending will contribute to the long-term stabilization of our economy.

And we have to keep in mind the impact of the spending in terms of our deficit. So the package will be as big as it can be successful, on the tax side and on the investment side.

Cabinet nominees confirmed quickly

RAY SUAREZ: Democratic leaders sought to play down a Congressional Budget Office report that raised doubts about how effective the stimulus plan would be at creating jobs quickly. The Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid, said the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, who just left the CBO, told him the report was incomplete.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-Nev., Senate majority leader: There was a significant discussion about the CBO numbers, and Peter Orszag was there. He explained in some detail how they only analyzed 40 percent of the bill, that he said he would guarantee that at least 75 percent of the bill would go directly into the economy within the first 18 months.

RAY SUAREZ: While the leadership was meeting at the White House, another top Democrat, Finance Chair Max Baucus, unveiled a Senate alternative to the House plan, with a slightly lower price tag, more tax cuts, and less spending.

At this morning's meeting, Mr. Obama also thanked the Senate participants for what he said was the unprecedented speed with which they've approved his cabinet nominees.

Among those confirmed late yesterday were: New York City Housing Commissioner Shaun Donovan to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development; former Republican Congressman Ray LaHood to head the Department of Transportation; Lisa Perez Jackson as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Nancy Helen Sutley as a member of the Council of Environmental Quality; Mary Schapiro as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission; and Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations.

The most high-profile addition to the Obama cabinet, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spoke early this afternoon to the Foreign Assistance Corps at U.S. Agency for International Development.

HILLARY CLINTON, secretary of State: And I wanted to come here today with a very simple message. I believe in development, and I believe with all my heart that it truly is an equal partner, along with defense and diplomacy, in the furtherance of America's national security.

RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Clinton said she would push to expand the agency's mission, its clout, and its funding, but they were going to be expected to deliver, and not just by the secretary.

HILLARY CLINTON: We have with President Obama someone who believes in development and diplomacy. So his understanding and commitment to these important human issues runs very deep, but we must be the best we can be to merit his support. It's not going to be given freely.

Paterson appoints Gillibrand

RAY SUAREZ: Moments earlier, and more than 300 miles to the north, New York Governor David Paterson named a surprise candidate to replace Clinton as the state's junior senator. After months of heated speculation surrounding the appointment and a media and political frenzy over the candidacy and recent withdrawal of Caroline Kennedy, Paterson made the announcement.

GOV. DAVID PATERSON, D-N.Y.: She is dynamic, she is articulate, she is perceptive, she is courageous, she is outspoken. I am appointing her to the United States Senate representing New York today. Please welcome our next senator and current congresswoman, Kirsten Gillibrand.

RAY SUAREZ: Gillibrand, who only just won her second House term, hails from a mostly rural, eastern part of the state represented by Republicans for decades. Today she pledged to focus on the challenges confronting all New Yorkers.

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, D-N.Y., senator-designate: I realize that, for many New Yorkers, this is the first time you've heard my name and you don't know much about me. Over these next two years, you will get to know me, but, much more importantly, I will get to know you.

As I represented the needs and the priorities of the 20th Congressional District of New York, I will represent the many diverse views and voices of the entire state as your senator.

From the dairy farmers of western New York, to the homeowners in Long Island facing crushing property taxes, to the workers who have lost their job in this economic crisis, to all the folks who work in our financial institutions, I intend to listen to all of my constituents and all of my colleagues in government to be part of the solution.

Obama reverses global gag law

RAY SUAREZ: Back in Washington, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs read a statement from the president, praising Gillibrand as "a wonderful choice." Gibbs added Mr. Obama had called to congratulate the new senator.

Gibbs was asked about the possibility that the president would sign an executive order ending the ban on federal funds to international groups that perform or promote abortions. It's a policy that's been affirmed and then reversed by Republican and Democratic presidents respectively since Ronald Reagan established it in 1984.

JOURNALIST: And I'm wondering if you can, in advance, give us any sort of preview about his thinking on this, its impact? And, also, how might that -- is there anything comparable domestically that he's planning to do with regard to abortion policies?

ROBERT GIBBS, White House press secretary: As I said yesterday, as a part of my overall career advancement, I've found it useful to get out of the way of a principal that might be making news on certain subjects later on in the afternoon. And I will exercise that right again today and ask you to stay tuned for a statement from the president possibly on those issues.

RAY SUAREZ: Shortly after the Gibbs briefing, President Obama, away from cameras, signed the order that once again reversed the ban. The order came one day after the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, this year, as in other years, marked by large demonstrations and marches through the heart of the national capital.