President Barack Obama called House and Senate leaders to the White House for an urgent meeting Monday afternoon to drive home his message that they should set aside their reservations and pass his economic stimulus proposal.
It was the second straight day the president had invited lawmakers to the White House to broker a bipartisan agreement, after he welcomed members of Congress to join him to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday.
In an interview with NBC News before the game, Obama said Sunday that he was confident he could win over Republican support in the Senate, which began considering a $900 billion version of the plan Monday after the House passed an $819 billion version last week with no Republican votes.
“We will let the Senate work its will as it relates to this,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday.
Because the two versions are different, the House and the Senate would have to negotiate a single reconciled version if the Senate approves its measure. That gives Obama the opportunity to lobby House Democratic leaders to agree to concessions that could make the bill more palatable to Senate Republicans, many of whom complain that the House bill puts too much emphasis on spending on social programs that would not give the economy an immediate boost.
“All of those things will be topics of this meeting this afternoon,” Gibbs said.
Obama, in the interview that , took an optimistic view.
“The fact that we have been able to move what is by all accounts a historic piece of legislation through this quickly and that the Senate’s having a serious debate about it — and we still expect it to be on my desk for signature before Presidents Day— is quite an achievement,” he said.
But Obama acknowledged Republicans’ concerns and said he was eager to incorporate their suggestions “because they had some good ideas,” adding “we’re going to be trimming out things that are not relevant to putting people back to work right now.”
“Look, the important thing is getting the thing passed,” the president said.
Spending report adds impetusThe stimulus plan is designed to lure consumers back into the marketplace. The proposal gained urgency Monday after new figures showed that consumer spending fell by more than $100 billion in December, .
Gibbs said Obama believed it was vital to pass the legislation to “pave the way for sustained economic growth through long-term investments that families all across the country desperately need.”
Gibbs said Obama was “pleased with the package that passed the House” but that he understood that the “package will be strengthened and changed some through the process” in the Senate, a prospect he welcomed.
As it stands now, many Senate Republicans said they could not vote for the package, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who said in an interview with CNN that he was holding out for more tax cuts and aid to homeowners struggling withtheir mortgage payments.
“Now is the time to sit down and seriously negotiate, which we haven’t [done] up to now,” McCain said.
But Gibbs said the total cost of the provisions Senate Republicans objected to amounted to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the overall package, which he said should not derail the proposal.
“The American people are hurting and are in need of some help,” Gibbs said. “... Delay in this town may not mean much, but delay in America means that the help the American people need right now won’t get to the American people as fast as they need it.”
Obama pushes bipartisan backingObama met with reporters Monday, with Republican Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont, vice chairman of the National Governors Association, prominently at his side to reinforce his optimistic message that he and Congress could swiftly work out any “very modest” differences over the stimulus package.
“With very few exceptions, I heard from Republicans and Democrats the need for action, and swift action,” he said.
In his interview with NBC News, Obama urged lawmakers not to lose sight of the bigger picture.
“What [the American people] want to know is that Congress and the White House have a single-minded focus on making sure that people can be put back to work,” he told TODAY anchor Matt Lauer.
“Democracy is always a somewhat messy process,” the president said. “But the thing I want all of them to remember, and the thing I’m thinking about every single day, is the thousands of people who are being laid off of their jobs right now. They can’t afford politics as usual.”
Exploiting the technology that helped elect him in November, Obama urging them to let lawmakers know that they wanted the bill to pass quickly.
“I need your help to spread the word and build support,” he wrote. “It’s not enough for this bill to simply pass Congress. Americans need to know how it will affect their lives — they need to know that help is on the way and that this administration is investing in economic growth and stability.”