- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

UPDATED:

President Obama on Friday said that the current economic crisis might be “unprecedented,” and that his daily briefings from economic advisers the last few days have been unremittingly grim, as he met with congressional leaders to move forward a stimulus package.

“Frankly, the news has not been good. Each day brings, I think, a greater focus on the problems that we’re having, not only in terms of job loss, but also in terms of some of the instabilities in the financial system,” Mr. Obama said, referring to now daily briefings he has asked senior economic adviser Larry Summers to give him.

The president met with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room to discuss the status of his $825 billion economic stimulus plan.

“I recognize that there are still some differences around the table and between the administration and the members of Congress about particular details on the plan. But what I think what unifies this group is a recognition that we are experiencing an unprecedented, perhaps, crisis that has to be dealt with and dealt with rapidly,” Mr. Obama said to reporters at the beginning of the meeting.

The press was then ushered out so the meeting could be held in private, a normal occurrence for most meetings at the White House under other presidents.

Republican leaders emerged from the meeting in agreement that action must be taken and that they will be able to pass a bill by mid-February.

But House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, said that he and others expressed concerns over some of the proposed spending.

“I’m concerned about the size of the package, and I’m concerned about some of the spending that’s in there. How you can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives, how does that stimulate the economy?” he said, referring to increased funding for family planning clinics, which some conservatives have said is a liberal social agenda “buried” in the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the stimulus should be “timely, temporary and targeted,” using House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s criteria for the 2007 stimulus designed by the Bush White House.

“I think that’s a good test to apply to what we’re trying to do here. And it’ll require a good deal of restraint on both sides to try to keep it…within those parameters,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. Boehner and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican — who Thursday evening said the current stimulus “doesn’t cut it” — delivered their proposals for the stimulus to Mr. Obama.

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said that Republicans “have had their voices heard,” mentioning tax cuts designed by the Obama administration that she said were Republican ideas.

“Many of the tax cuts that are in the bill were some of the suggestions made by the Republicans already, net operating loss, the tax credit for jobs,” she said. “A number of those are in there now.”

House Republicans reacted angrily to Mrs. Pelosi’s claim.

“Speaker Pelosi just claimed that Republican voices have been heard in discussion of the House Democrats’ trillion-dollar spending bill. That is simply not true,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

“As an example, she cited a $3,000 per-job tax credit. This provision was requested by President Obama not House Republicans and House Democrats have already removed it from the legislation. In addition, the House Democrats’ bill contains significantly less tax relief than President Obama requested,” he said.

The stimulus bill is expected to be voted on Wednesday in the House, and would then go to the Senate.

Mr. Obama also said that the stimulus would be “one leg in a, at least, a three-legged stool.” He said that reform of government waste and stricter oversight of how taxpayer money is spent by financial institutions is also needed.

“Some of the reports that we’ve seen over the last couple of days about companies that have received taxpayer assistance then going out and renovating bathrooms or offices or in other ways not managing those dollars appropriately, the lack of accountability and transparency in how we are managing some of these programs to stabilize the financial system,” Mr. Obama said.

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