Obama Appears to Change Few GOP Minds on Stimulus

Posted January 27, 2009 at 1:48pm

President Barack Obama appeared to do little Tuesday to persuade wary House Republicans to support his economic stimulus plan, with neither side seeming apt to compromise on the amount of tax cuts included in the package. Obama huddled behind closed doors with the GOP Conference for more than an hour, fielding a half-dozen questions from Members who as yet refuse to back his plan. Lawmakers pressed Obama on the issue of whether he’d be willing to expand the tax-cut portion of the $825 billion package, but the president said no. Afterward, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he remains confident that House Republicans will vote against the package when it comes to the floor on Wednesday. Boehner, who earlier advised his colleagues to oppose it barring major changes, said GOP Members philosophically object to the amount of spending in the proposal. “We’ll have a united front,” he predicted. “I don’t know that we’ll get everyone, but we’ll get virtually everybody.” Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) was the first to raise the tax issue. “Can we find some more common ground on tax relief?” he asked Obama. According to a source, Obama responded that he would not compromise on the payroll tax provisions. “Feel free to whack me over the head because I probably will not compromise on that part,” he said, adding that there will be a time for partisanship. “I understand that and I will watch you on Fox News and feel bad about myself.” Republicans said Obama made clear that he is committed to the basic outlines of his stimulus package and defended it. “He’s confident that spending will help out the economy and we’re not confident that it will,” Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) said. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), a Ways and Means member, asked Obama whether the stimulus was an excuse to raise taxes. Obama reportedly told Brady that the challenging times called for a bold response. “At the pace we are going, we are doing irreparable damage to our economy. We are going to have to make some very painful choices,” Obama said. “We will present a budget with a realistic approach to eliminate debt, and bring down spending.” Republican Policy Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) said there is a lot of common ground between Obama and Republicans, but there may not be enough time — or inclination on the part of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — to cut a deal. “There is a House Democratic majority that may not let us get there,” he said. A group of moderate Republicans has been invited to the White House by Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, for dinner tonight. That overture is seen as a last-ditch effort to lure GOP support for the measure. “Hopefully it’s not just a one-time thing for the bill tomorrow,” said Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), one of the invitees. Gerlach said he will vote against the bill in its current form. “There are many opportunities to make it a much better bill and hopefully that will happen,” he said. While most House Republicans said Obama’s trip to the Hill changed few minds, at least one Member suggested he may be convinced that the stimulus is a good idea. “There’s a lot in there that would be a benefit to New York,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who said New York stood to gain $9 billion to $11 billion just from the Medicaid portion of the bill. That effectively lowers New York property tax rates, he said. And while he said he’ll vote no, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said that by coming to the Hill to meet with Republicans, Obama “did himself a world of good, if not for this vote then down the line.” “It’s a tough product to sell,” Flake said.