- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

With his pledges of bipartisanship hanging in the balance, President Obama visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to pressure both Republicans and Democrats to support his economic recovery plan but did not appear to have changed many minds before the House gives its expected approval of the bill Wednesday.

In his first visit to the Capitol since his swearing-in, Mr. Obama evoked Ronald Reagan in asking Republicans to put aside partisan goals and vote for the economic stimulus bill. Republicans gave Mr. Obama high marks but said they’ll oppose the bill en masse as a protest against the bill’s contents and the process by which it was written.

“We believe that had [the president] had free rein and a free hand in crafting this legislation, it would look a lot different. But because it’s gone through the congressional Democrats, it’s basically a grab bag for every program they’ve wanted to see funded for years,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.

With Democrats marshaling majorities in both chambers, the $825 billion bill is almost certain to pass. The questions will be how much input Republicans have and how much of a bipartisan vote Mr. Obama can garner when the dust settles.

“I don’t expect 100 percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people’s business right now,” Mr. Obama told reporters as he rushed from the House meeting to the Senate meeting.

He told House Democrats to remove a contentious birth-control funding plank, and his budget director made an appeal to spending-conscious conservative Democrats by telling his party to make sure that spending doesn’t become an excuse for new long-term programs and doesn’t go to pet projects.

The White House indicated that despite the votes, Mr. Obama is still open to changes before the House and Senate hammer out a final compromise bill.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said he has had three face-to-face meetings with Mr. Obama over the recovery package but that Republicans have not had similar talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Republicans had some luck in winning changes as the bill worked its way through Senate committees. The Senate Finance Committee adopted an amendment to patch the alternative minimum tax, bringing the Senate’s total price tag to more than $900 billion.

The Senate was preparing for a floor debate perhaps as early as this week. The House was headed for a full debate Wednesday.

Congressional Democrats defended their process for writing the bill and promised that Republicans will have the chance to offer changes. But they said Republicans don’t have a right to write the measure.

“Being bipartisan does not mean having to lay down and say, ‘We will do whatever you want.’ Being bipartisan is saying, ‘We will talk. We will figure it out. If we can agree, we will agree,’” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

He added that the House will not be held hostage by a “hard faction of the Republican Party that happens to reside in the House of Representatives.”

An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office said the $825 billion spending bill - because it is added on top of the deficit - will end up adding $347 billion in debt over the next 10 years.

Mr. Obama made a personal appeal Monday night to House Democrats to remove a Medicaid provision that would have boosted contraceptive payments. Democrats relented after Republicans argued that the provision had nothing to do with economic stimulus.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday said that move likely angered some Democrats but was a sign of Mr. Obama’s desire to focus on what works. He twice criticized House Republican leaders for having urged their members to oppose the bill earlier this week, even before having met with Mr. Obama.

“Maybe it’s news that nobody threw anything at anybody,” he said, adding that with both chambers needing to reconcile their bills before a final vote, this week’s action is part of a long process, not the judgment of bipartisanship.

“I think the most important thing about tomorrow is keeping this process going, because again the American people deserve a process that understands the severity of the crisis that they’re involved in, not to get involved in some ‘Animal House‘-type food fight on Capitol Hill about what’s going to happen up there,” he said.

Continuing the outreach, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a former Democratic leader in Congress, was planning to meet with 11 moderate Republicans Tuesday night.

In the House meeting with Mr. Obama, Republicans asked him about everything from the delay in moving to digital television to health care to long-term spending.

Mr. Obama told the group that he, too, is worried about deficits and promised a budget in February that makes painful choices.

After senators met with Mr. Obama, Republicans pronounced themselves “pleased” with the time the president gave them.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, noted that Mr. Obama “knows us all well, so that makes the relationship with senators perhaps easier than with House members.” Mr. Obama “is very comfortable with himself and so others are comfortable with him.”

But Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said there was still “too much government and too much spending” in the stimulus bill that the president wants.

Mr. Obama is “very likable, presented himself well and wants to be inclusive,” Mr. Inhofe said. “But if the product is anything like what we think it will be, he’s not going to be able to sell it to conservatives.”

• Kara Rowland, David R. Sands, Jon Ward and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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