Obama seeks help from GOP on economy

President Barack Obama is making good on his promise to hear from Republicans as he pushes for swift passage and bipartisan backing of his massive $825 billion plan intended to jerk the country out of recession.

The unanswered question: whether the new Democratic president will actually listen to GOP concerns about the amount of spending and the tax approach — and modify his proposal accordingly.

With the economy worsening, Obama was making his first trip to Capitol Hill since his swearing-in last week for two private afternoon sessions Tuesday with House and Senate Republicans.

"The goal is to seek their input. He wants to hear their ideas," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. "If there are good ideas — and I think he assumes there will be — we will look at those ideas."

"I think the president is genuinely serious about this," Gibbs added.

The presidential spokesman would not, however, reveal what concessions Obama may be willing to make, if any, to demonstrate his seriousness about working across the aisle and securing GOP support. Gibbs, however, noted that there already are tax provisions in the measure, mostly small business cuts, that are direct GOP suggestions to Obama and his economic team.

"We don’t have pride of authorship. We understand that this is a process of give and take to produce what the president believes is the strongest plan to get the economy going again," Gibbs said.

Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Democrats for the hold-up.

"We’re anxious to help him," the Kentucky Republican said of Obama Tuesday morning. "Frankly, the biggest problem is with his own party, the Democratic Party, which seems to be drifting away from what he said he wanted, which is a package that is at least 40 percent tax cuts and earmark free."

"We think the country needs a stimulus," McConnell said on NBC’s "Today" show. But he also said that he believes most people do not believe it will be accomplished through projects like "fixing up the mall."

Republican leaders sent Obama a letter last week requesting he talk with them about the stimulus. Tuesday’s meetings follow a bipartisan, bicameral White House gathering last week with congressional leaders on the economy.

Under the Obama team’s watchful eye, the Democratic-controlled House and the Senate are in the midst of modifying the package that melds new government spending with a series of tax cuts. It seems to grow with every turn as it wends its way through Congress, and it’s likely to be the largest single piece of legislation ever, once it ends up on Obama’s desk. He wants it ready to sign by mid-February.

As Senate committees prepared to take up the measure and the full House got ready to vote on it this week, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis that found that Obama’s plan would flow into the economy a little more slowly than he predicted.

At this point, two-thirds of the package consists of new spending on everything from unemployment aid to construction projects while the rest is tax cuts for both individuals and businesses. Republicans are griping that the price tag is too high because of nonessential spending and that the tax provisions are flawed.

Obama’s meetings come as the Federal Reserve examines unconventional ways to lift the economy, and one day after several companies, including Sprint Nextel Corp., Home Depot Inc., and General Motors Corp., announced sweeping job cuts as they seek to remain solvent in an economic environment that worsens by the day amid turmoil in the financial, housing and credit sectors.

Given the gravity of the economic situation, the stimulus measure is widely expected to pass Congress with bipartisan support. The question is just how many Republicans will side with majority Democrats to pass it; House GOP leader John Boehner has said he couldn’t support the measure in its current form and McConnell has been noncommittal.

Obama already has had one early victory, persuading Congress to give him the second installment of the $700 billion financial industry bailout money — and that was before he even got into office.

But the stimulus package presents a huge opportunity for the president, who was elected in part by his call for a new-style politics that emphasizes solutions over partisanship to change the way frequently gridlocked Washington works. Getting a significant number of Republicans to back the measure would be a triumph for Obama that would set a bipartisan tone for his presidency and signal that he values Republican ideas — and is willing to give a little to get a little.

For all his courting of Republicans and promises to listen to their ideas, Obama has made clear that it’s his vision that will guide the country.

"I won" the election, he told Republicans on Friday when pressed about his tax policy — a comment both the White House and GOP leaders described as lighthearted, though also matter-of-fact.


  1. almandine

    Yes, GDP includes govt spending… reducing even more the amount of “real” domestic product available to correct this great problem. Public vs. private arguments are fallacious, as “public funding” is always private money being spent via govt redistibution or truly govt money of either the fiat kind (Print more!) or the situation in which govt own the means of production. Thus “proper” funding can only be of the private variety in a capitalist society. Our current situation is such that there actually are no means of govt production, and there are smaller and smaller amounts of private funding to avert the crisis. Even the foreign sources of funding we tapped for so long to float our debt boat are almost dried up now, as we have bankrupted many of them as well. Thus, the printing press is the only favored solution. Create more worthless money… making the money in use now more worthless too… stagflation today, but extreme hyperinflation and/or depressive deflation the likely future outcome(s). Unfortunately, the stimulation process being worked now is to save the crooked banks – not productive industry.. Think of it – out of a planned $850B stimulus package, only $30B for infrastructure – and no matter the specifics, the presumption has to be that it will get repaid someday. In any case, it seems we will probably get the social costs you suggest.

    A friend just got back from Zimbabwe – a possible precursor example of ourselves. He was carrying a $50B note from there… he paid $1.23 US for it and it would buy somewhat less than a loaf of bread last week – a little less than the price of bread here. A month before, their $10B note would buy 2 loaves of bread. Hello price inflation resulting from monetary inflation? Explain that to the jobless.

    Interestingly, I was at an economics seminar on Saturday and one of the speakers was showing govt spending and inflation statistics from around 1900 until today. The scary part was the point at which he pulled out depression-era “coupons” that were needed, in addition to the purchase price for items, to buy tires, gas, typewriters and other goods. Rationing – just a reminder of how bad things could get.

    As far as terms such as liberal, conservative, right- and left-wing, etc., it is also interesting and instructive to note that “classic liberals” have, in the economic sense, always been the “free marketeers” of which you seem to despair. Their focus on individual freedom, private property, and minimal government intervention and control are far from the ideas of so-called (left-wing) liberals today… that is, those who would use govt force to intervene on their behalf, no matter the violence done to their fellow citizens. I wonder how such a revered term has morphed to become a symbol of something so despicable… in the good old USA.

  2. Raymond Bellah

    You can carry water and pour it into a bucket but will it do any good if the bucket has a hole in it?

    It may be time for a new bucket.

    “Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently for the same reason”

  3. Uncle Ludwig

    Point 1 – GDP is a misleading indicator in these conversations because its measurement includes government spending on the plus side of the value versus imports on the minus side. Attempting to justify an argument against government spending using GDP numbers indicates a lack of awareness.

    Point 2 – Certain so-called conservatives seem bent on having a new Great Depression they can blame on the left by sticking to their own failed, knee-jerk responses to anything having to do with proper governance and by assailing all proposals that will involve public spending with increased oversight.

    Point 3 – By insisting that the private sector is the only source of proper funding for an economic stimulus, the conservative wing is ignoring what most realistic voices recognize the government to be – the only AVAILABLE source of funds to stimulate the economic engine. As the massive failures, layoffs, and red ink indicate, the private sector is reeling, and is limiting its sights to its own welfare, not society’s as a whole.

    Point 4 – In spite of what the right wingers are saying, the policies of the Great Depression were not put in place fundamentally to turn the economy around but to prevent a complete implosion of the social order. The last thing this country ever needs is to become an anarchic, feral society.

    Chronic frustration, psychological depression, labor unrest, etc., can lead to outbreaks of severe anti-social acts, mob rule, and worse. Giving people their personal dignity, and a little hope, are more important to all of us than worrying about the collapse of specific industries. Certainly gainful employment is part of an orderly society, and collapses of industries affect thousands upon thousands, but unless that industry magically can rebuild itself in record time, those jobs aren’t going to back from that sector anyway, and We the People must look elsewhere for solutions.