Praise for Obama, not votes

President Obama’s trip to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to sell his economic stimulus package won style points but few GOP votes.

Republicans praised Obama’s conciliatory tone and his willingness to listen to their ideas, while Obama offered an olive branch on taxes by telling the House conference that he could agree to lower the corporate tax rate if they agreed to close corporate tax loopholes.

ADVERTISEMENT
“Let’s close the loopholes, push aside the special interests, and we could lower the corporate tax,” Obama said, according to a source in the room.

Obama gave no indication he was willing to negotiate on the larger Republican point that more than $275 billion of the stimulus should go to tax cuts, however, and he appeared to change few minds on the package’s substance.  

“Did he swing votes? I don’t know,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the GOP’s conference vice chairman. “He did a very good job in making his case. And he did a very good job of listening to some of the issues Republicans have.”

House Republicans pushing for more tax cuts and less spending criticized Democrats for shutting them out of the process of crafting the House bill, and tried to drive a wedge between Obama and Democratic leaders.

House Republicans erupted in applause after Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) pleaded with Obama to tell Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to include Republican ideas in the bill and in future legislation.

GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) said that “the most encouraging statement the president made today, I think, was that he had no pride of authorship on this bill.”

“We take that to mean that [Wednesday’s House floor] vote is only the first step in the process, only the beginning,” Cantor said.

The president did not specifically address the GOP plea to influence the bill, according to attendees of the meeting. But he did tell the packed room that there will be “ample time” to alter the stimulus package after it is passed in the House and Senate, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said.

After the meeting, House Republicans immediately reconvened without the president to continue working on the bill they’ve crafted as an alternative.

In the Senate, the new president was peppered with questions about the proposal, with GOP senators pressing him to reconsider the package’s $825 billion price tag and to keep the stimulus focused on the housing and financial markets. Obama was also asked to consider helping the housing market with the second half of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Obama’s response, according to senators and aides, was that he prefers an incremental approach that starts with the stimulus plan and then reaches the housing and financial markets.

Republicans told Obama that they, in turn, prefer the stimulus stay focused on those markets.

{mospagebreak}“We stressed to him that those are the two markets that created this crisis in the first place,” said one Republican.

Obama told reporters he didn’t expect to win every GOP vote, but made it clear he would still push to win enough GOP support for the stimulus to describe it as bipartisan.

“There are some legitimate philosophical differences with parts of my plan that the Republicans have, and I respect that,” Obama said between meetings.

ADVERTISEMENT
“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.”

The effort was set to continue Tuesday night, as White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel invited several GOP members to the White House to win their support.

Republicans invited included Reps. Fred Upton (Mich.), Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Jim Gerlach (Pa.), Mike Castle (Del.), Candice Miller (Mich.), Vernon Ehlers (Mich.), Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.), Leonard Lance (N.J.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Tom Petri (Wis.). Several are centrists or represent states among the hardest hit by the recession.

Ray LaHood, a Republican lawmaker who retired after the 2008 session and is now Obama’s Transportation secretary, was also set to attend the meeting.

Obama planned to keep the heat on Congress with remarks about the stimulus from the East Room of the White House on Wednesday. Obama hopes to have the bill on his desk by Presidents Day weekend.

Several GOP senators said there were no tense exchanges at the meeting. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom Obama defeated last year for the presidency, did not speak.

Obama often told Senate Republicans, “You may be right — we’ll take a look at that,” and sometimes directed economic aide Lawrence Summers to note a suggestion he liked, according to those in attendance at the meeting.

Some senators and aides later grumbled at the president’s tardiness — expected at 1:15 p.m., Obama, flanked by press secretary Robert Gibbs and Summers, showed up a half-hour late, at 1:45 p.m.

“He sure does run late,” said one lawmaker. “It’s like a return to the Clinton era.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) complimented Obama on his tone and tenor.

“He understands the magnitude on his shoulders and you can hear it in his voice when he talks about the economy,” Burr said.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) described the meeting as a frank exchange of views.

“We offered a number of suggestions, and the impression we were left with was that they were interested in taking a look at our suggestions,” McConnell said of the hourlong meeting.

Sam Youngman and Molly K. Hooper contributed to this article.