WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats sought to ease Republican complaints about a massive economic stimulus plan Friday, meeting with GOP leaders in the White House and promising to consider some of their recommendations.
Many Republican lawmakers say the $825 billion package is too costly, and that too much of the spending is for long-range projects that won't aid the economy quickly. Some economists say the package should be even bigger, however, and it was unclear whether Republicans would have much impact.
House and Senate GOP leaders "had some constructive suggestions, which we'll review," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters after the meeting with Obama and House and Senate leaders from both parties in the Roosevelt Room.
Speaking at the National Press Club shortly after the White House gathering, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader in the Senate, said he believes the measure will clear Congress by the mid-February target date set by Obama and Democratic leaders.
In brief remarks before the meeting, Obama urged bipartisan support for the package, adding that he wanted to hear the Republicans' concerns.
"I know that it is a heavy lift to do something as substantial as we're doing right now," Obama said. "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 I think what 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."
He thanked congressional leaders for working quickly on the rescue package that he says will create 3 million to 4 million new jobs.
"That is going to be absolutely critical and it appears that we are on target to make our President's Day weekend," he said. President's Day falls on Monday, Feb. 16.
Obama also said that any legislation governing the use of an additional $350 billion in financial industry bailout money must include new measures to ensure accountability and transparency.
After the meeting, House Republican Leader John Boehner said he and his colleagues told Obama they feel the stimulus package is too expensive and too slow. He said Republicans told Obama of their own plans to "get fast-acting tax relief in the hands of American families and small businesses, because, at the end of the day, government can't solve this problem."
Republicans have been seeking deeper tax cuts and have said there was no reliable estimate of the bill's impact on employment.
Democrats tried to mitigate the impact of a Congressional Budget Office study that questioned administration claims that the money could be spent fast enough to reduce joblessness quickly.
After attending the White House meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said there was "significant discussion about the CBO numbers." He said Obama's budget director, Peter Orszag, who recently headed the CBO, told participants that the study analyzed only 40 percent of the pending stimulus bill and that Orszag "would guarantee that at least 75 percent of the bill would go directly into the economy within the first 18 months."
Also on Friday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus unveiled a Senate version of the tax-cutting portion of the bill. Social Security recipients would get a bonus payment of $300 under the plan. Its tax cuts and spending proposals total $355 billion. It will be paired with $400 billion in further spending proposed by the Appropriations Committee on the Senate floor.
The House version of the bill advanced in committees this week. Republicans, who are in the minority, were unable to make inroads with their proposals.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday approved $275 billion in tax cuts on a party-line vote of 24-13. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, also working on the bill, cleared $2.8 billion to expand broadband communications service. And on Wednesday night, the House Appropriations Committee approved a $358 billion spending measure on a 35-22 party-line vote.
Obama is scheduled to meet in the Capitol with House Republicans next week, at their request. But by then the House bill could be on the floor awaiting a vote.
Government reports showed the number of new jobless claims was up and new home construction hit an all-time low in December.