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Obama Targets February to Pass Stimulus Plan

“We are experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis that has to be dealt with and dealt with rapidly,” Obama told reporters before meeting with Democratic and GOP leaders at the White House.

Thursday’s reports that U.S. jobless claims had reached a 26-year high combined with computer giant Microsoft’s announcement of its plans to cut 5,000 jobs lent new urgency to Obama’s efforts to gain bipartisan congressional support for his plan.

While some Republicans voiced criticism over parts of the proposal, saying the $550 billion the president plans to spend on government programs will add too much to the federal deficit and that the proposed $275 billion in tax cuts is too little, GOP leaders struck a supportive tone after emerging from Thursday’s meeting.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Thursday he was confident Congress would meet the president’s February deadline.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters after the meeting that Democrats will seek bipartisan support for the package. “It doesn’t come down to Democrats or Republicans; it comes down to jobs, 4 million jobs created or saved,” she said.

House and Senate GOP leaders “had some constructive suggestions, which we’ll review,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said of the discussions.

Obama has said that his plan’s focus is to create or save millions of jobs in the U.S. economy, dragged into a recession since the collapse of the housing market and an ensuing credit freeze.

House Minority Leader John Boehner accused House Democrats of “barreling ahead” without reaching out to Republicans. “We’re trying to understand how their plan is really going to stimulate the economy,” Boehner said. “How is it going to create more jobs in America and preserve existing jobs in America?”

Pelosi and Boehner were among those who attended Friday’s White House meeting with President Obama, along with Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Winning Republican support for the package will be an early indication of whether Obama can reach out to Republicans and overcome the partisan politics that many lawmakers felt divided Washington under President George W. Bush.

Wall Street was watching the meeting closely for indications about whether the stimulus package would be passed by the mid-February deadline. Fears that Congress will fail to reach a consensus have driven stocks down.

Obama also cited reports of TARP recipients wasting money on frivolous building renovations, saying there’s a lack of accountability and transparency in the system. And he noted the GAO report of waste in government. “Those have to be part and parcel of a reform package,” he said.

Obama has said repeatedly that the economy is his number one priority, and many analysts agree that his first term will likely be judged on his ability to steer the U.S. out of the financial crisis.

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