- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009


President Obama tried to put the “bi” back in bipartisanship Tuesday in separate meetings with House and Senate Republicans, but failed to sway votes on the economic recovery bill as Republicans complained congressional Democrats are not living up to the president’s promises.

Looking to pressure his own party, Mr. Obama’s budget director sent a letter to congressional Democrats demanding they boost the up-front spending so that at least 75 percent is disbursed in the first 18 months. The Congressional Budget Office this week said 64 percent of the House package would be spent in that time.

In the letter, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag also told Congress the bill must be free of earmarks and must not open the door to dramatic future spending.

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Walking out of their meeting with Mr. Obama, House Republicans said they were thrilled with the amount of time the president gave them — he went 20 minutes over his schedule with them — but said he has not been able to make his fellow Democrats give ground.

“We believe that had he had free reign 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.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said it’s telling that he’s been in three face-to-face meetings with Mr. Obama over the recovery package, but has yet to have similar meetings with House Democrats.

In his meetings with Republicans, Mr. Obama said they will have fundamental disagreements, such as his support for tax rebates for those who don’t pay income taxes — the president said those folks do pay sales, Social Security and Medicare taxes and therefore deserve a cut. But Mr. Obama said he’s trying to bridge gaps.

“I don’t expect a hundred 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.

After the Senate meeting, Republicans pronounced themselves “pleased” with the time Mr. Obama spent.

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 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.”

The bill was being considered by Senate committees Tuesday, and the House was beginning floor debate.

The Senate Appropriations Committee by a 21-9 vote advanced the spending part of the bill to the full Senate for debate later this week.

All nine opposing votes were from Republicans.

Republicans supporting the legislation were Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

Mr. Cochran, the committee’s ranking Republican, said he was voting for the bill as a courtesy but may oppose final passage of the plan if he thinks the tax-cut piece is inadequate.

The Senate Finance Committee also was marking up the tax package Tuesday.

Kara Rowland, David R. Sands and S.A. Miller contributed to this article.

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