The Washington Times - February 9, 2009, 11:12PM

President Obama, following a day trip to Florida Tuesday to once again sell his stimulus plan, will host the 49 conservative House Democrat members of the Blue Dog Coalition at the White House on the eve of a crucial three-day stretch for the massive spending bill.

The Blue Dogs are moderate and conservative House Democrats who have become a key constituency in recent years as Democrats have won many seats in right-leaning Republican districts.


These members are by and large particularly keen on fiscal conservatism, and they will be important to getting the stimulus bill through the House when it comes back for a vote following conference committee.

The Senate is all but guaranteed to pass an $838 billion version of the stimulus tomorrow, which will then move the bill to conference committee, where it will have to be reconciled with an $821 billion version passed by the House last week.

The president wants the bill on his desk by the weekend.

Obama is heading to Fort Myers, Fla., tomorrow, arriving in the Sunshine state (where Obama staffers going on the trip cheerfully informed me it will be 81 degrees) just after 11 a.m. for a noontime town hall meeting, where he’ll again push Congress to move quickly, using a down and out town as a real-life example of why Congress should not delay.

Fort Myers is a conservative town in a county, Lee County, that voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain 54 percent to Mr. Obama’s 44 percent (147,608 to 119,701) last fall. It also approved a same-sex marriage ban by a 64 to 35 percent margin.

Obama’s event will be a repeat of today’s town hall in Elkhart, Ind., in terms of timing during the day’s news cycle and in terms of the area’s economic problems. Elkhart has seen unemployment triple from 4.7 percent to 15.3 percent in the last year, while Fort Myers’ unemployment has gone from 6 percent to 10 percent.

Fort Myers has also been hit hard by home foreclosures, largely because it was an area with lots of development prior to the real estate bubble’s burst in 2007.

But because of Fort Myers’ conservatism, expect a few more tough questions than the one the president got today, from a Sean Hannity fan. Here’s what I wrote about that exchange in today’s story:

The Hannity fan said Mr. Obama should have a beer with Mr. Hannity and then asked the president about failed Cabinet nominees such as former Sen. Tom Daschle, who she said are “not trustworthy, can’t handle their own budget and taxes,” drawing boos from the audience.

Mr. Obama shushed the audience, saying the question was “perfectly legitimate,” and then once again admitted a mistake in going forward with the Daschle nomination despite the former Senate majority leader’s problems with back taxes. He also defended his administration’s new ethics guidelines, which include measures to block former executive branch employees from going directly into lobbying the government.

“We have not been perfect, but we are changing the culture in Washington, and it’s going to take some time,” Mr. Obama said.

“Now, with respect to Sean Hannity, I didn’t know that he had invited me for a beer,” Mr. Obama said, as the crowd laughed. “Generally, his opinion of me does not seem to be very high. But I’m always good for a beer.”


- Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times