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Obama Tries to Bolster Republican Support For Stimulus

January 27, 2009 at 6:00 PM EST
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President Obama headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday to try to garner bipartisan support for his economic stimulus plan, which some Republican congressional leaders have criticized for not doing enough to create and preserve jobs. Ray Suarez reports.
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JIM LEHRER: President Obama pressed his campaign for quick action on economic stimulus today. He marked his first full week in office with a pitch for support from Republicans as well as Democrats.

Ray Suarez has our report.

RAY SUAREZ: The president headed to Capitol Hill today in a bid to win skeptical Republican support for his $825 billion stimulus plan. His meetings with the Republican leadership came as the recession, now entering its second year, is deepening.

Yesterday, some of America’s largest companies announced new cuts, totaling 75,000 jobs in the U.S. and around the world. The latest nationwide unemployment rate of 7.2 percent is already the highest in 16 years.

After meeting top House members, the president spoke to reporters.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As I explained to the Republican House Caucus and I will explain to my former Senate colleagues, the recovery package that we’ve proposed and is moving its way through Congress is just one leg in a multi-legged stool.

We’re still going to have to have much better financial regulation. We’ve got to get credit flowing again. We’re going to have to deal with the troubled assets that many banks are still carrying and that make the — that have locked up the credit system.

There are some legitimate philosophical differences with parts of my plan that the Republicans have, and I respect that. In some cases, they may just not be as familiar with what’s in the package as I would like.

I don’t expect 100 percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people’s business right now.

Disagreements over tax cuts

RAY SUAREZ: One sticking point in the president's economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, the mix between spending and tax cuts. We spoke to several House Republicans prior to their meeting with the president.

REP. LAMAR SMITH, R-Texas: We would like to see more tax credits, more tax cuts for small businesses that create 70 percent of the new jobs. And if we stimulate small business and if we give them reason to expand and hire, then we're going to do something about the economic crisis we face.

Right now, we don't have any good reason to support the stimulus. And I think you'll see a very large majority of the Republicans voting against it.

RAY SUAREZ: Under the current House proposal, about a third of the cost of the package -- some $275 billion -- consists of tax cuts for small businesses and individuals. The remaining $550 billion is for state aid and new spending on projects ranging from extending unemployment assistance to building infrastructure.

In order to win Republican support, the president urged his fellow Democrats to delete a provision from the bill which would have allowed states to provide low-income families with family planning services through Medicaid.

These meetings were just the latest in a series of high-profile attempts to reach across the aisle, this time initiated by Republicans.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, House minority leader: We had a very good conversation with the president. He reiterated his desire to work with us, to try to find common ground where we could.

Republicans urged to oppose bill

RAY SUAREZ: After meeting the president, Republican members said they were pleased Mr. Obama was willing to work with them but that the current legislation won't work.

REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-Va.: The most encouraging statement I think the president made today was the fact that he had no pride of authorship in this bill. We take that to mean that tomorrow's vote is only the first step in the process, only the beginning. And we intend to take the president at his word and to continue to refine what it is that the House Republicans have put forth on Friday as our plan.

RAY SUAREZ: House Leader Boehner reportedly told his members not to vote for the plan. As much as he appreciates the presidential visit, he and his colleagues say Democrats have given them nothing to work with.

REP. MIKE PENCE, R-Ind.: We are grateful for the outreach from the White House, and we take it as genuine, the president's desire to set partisan differences aside and draw on the best ideas in the Congress to deal with this very real crisis in our economy.

But as grateful as we are for the president's spirit, as I told him personally, House Democrats have completely ignored the president's call for bipartisan cooperation.

RAY SUAREZ: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the Republicans' charge.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., speaker of the House: Bipartisanship means giving them an opportunity to make their voices heard and maybe to persuade and prevail in the marketplace of ideas. It does not mean that we are going to have a continuation of the last eight years of failed economic policies.

RAY SUAREZ: As debate on the bill began late this afternoon, House Republicans remained unhappy with many aspects, including a $21 million plan to reinvigorate the National Mall, a two-mile stretch of national park in Washington, D.C.

REP. TRENT FRANKS, R-Ariz.: Small business is the economic engine of this country. It creates more jobs by far than anything else. And yet related to small business tax relief, we spend four times as much in this bill on replanting grass in the malls in Washington, D.C., than we do on tax incentives for small business.

Geithner confirmed for Treasury

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, Treasury secretary: I, Timothy F. Geithner...

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, the man charged with leading the economic recovery effort is Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in last night.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER: We're at a moment of maximum challenge for our economy and for our country. And our agenda, Mr. President, is to move quickly to help you do what the country asked you to do.

RAY SUAREZ: Today the newly minted treasury secretary quickly moved to take more control of the $700 billion bank rescue package. He imposed new restrictions on lobbying, making it harder to use political connections to influence the use of the bailout funds.

Today, the Treasury distributed $386 million to 23 banks. These are the first such cash transfers under the new president, and the administration successfully pressured one recipient of federal money, Citigroup, not to take delivery on a new $50 million corporate jet.

During the campaign, Mr. Obama said being president required being able to do many things at once. With the president's visit, House members sounded conciliatory, if not totally sold on the administration's plans.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, R-Fla.: The Republicans are not here to say no to everything that President Obama is going to be presenting. This is not a partisan issue.

The economy is in tough shape. People are hurting. They're losing their jobs. They're losing their homes. But this bill doesn't get us the economic security where we want our folks to be.

REP. CATHY McMorris RODGERS, R-Wash.: This is an unprecedented time that we face in our economy and that it really is going to take Republicans and Democrats working together.

RAY SUAREZ: The House is expected to vote on the measure tomorrow. If passed, it will then go on to the Senate. President Obama wants to sign a bill before mid-February.