Obama Rallies Democrats, Defends Stimulus

Posted February 5, 2009 at 10:17pm

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Sounding frustrated and impatient, President Barack Obama rallied House Democrats tonight to press forward with an economic stimulus package, delivering a speech that mixed his trademark appeal for post-partisanship with thinly veiled shots at the Republicans trying to take down the bill. Newly on offense to revive the prospects of a package battered by GOP attacks, Obama warned of an economic “catastrophe” if the stimulus bill fails. He deviated frequently from his prepared text to call out detractors and to counterpunch. “Don’t come to table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped create this crisis,” Obama said. Veering off-script to raise and rebut criticisms one by one, Obama took aim at the charge that the package is not a stimulus bill but a spending measure. “What do you think a stimulus bill is? That’s the point. No, seriously, that’s the whole point.” House Democratic leaders, who gathered their Caucus for a three-day retreat at the Kingsmill Resort, said they sensed Obama’s impatience and cheered the president’s aggressive tack. “Nobody likes to see their program misrepresented,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “He’s prepared to energetically make sure that misrepresentation does not stand and he corrects the message.” Partisan battle lines have quickly hardened over the package, complicating a still hugely popular Obama’s effort to secure the first major victory of his presidency. In a sign of fresh hostilities, the chiefs of the House campaign arms this week invoked clashes in the Muslim world to describe the state of play in the chamber. Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, compared the GOP messaging against the stimulus to insurgency tactics employed by the Taliban. “I just think there’s no place for that,” considering the economic crisis, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He repurposed a line from Obama’s inaugural address originally directed at hostile Middle East nations in telling Republicans “to unclench their fists.” After Obama’s speech, aides hustled reporters out of the room so the president could take questions from lawmakers in a private session. In that exchange, according to a person in the room, Obama told Democrats he had “inherited a mess” but was committed to tackling the challenges facing the financial system — even if such work limited him to a single term. He said he would rather “do the right thing” than be a mediocre, two-term president.