BY KENNETH R. BAZINET and THOMAS M. DeFRANK
New York Daily News
January 28,. 2009
WASHINGTON - President Obama is poised to vault over his biggest legislative hurdle Wednesday when the House is expected to pass his $825 billion stimulus package, with or without the Republican minority.
On the eve of the vote, Obama took the extraordinary step of journeying to Capitol Hill for separate Republican-only lobbying sessions, hoping to establish a more collegial tone with his not-so-loyal opposition.
"We had a wonderful exchange of ideas and I continue to be optimistic about our ability to get this recovery package done to put people back to work," Obama said after meeting with the House GOP caucus.
Republicans who seldom saw Presidents Bill Clinton or even George W. Bush on congressional turf praised Obama for his generosity of spirit. But they grumbled that some of his spending plans cost too much and will work their way into the battered economy too slowly.
Yet even GOP head-counters recognized that Obama has the votes to prevail Wednesday.
"It doesn't matter what the House leadership says," a top administration source said. "It matters how they vote [today], and a lot of these Republicans know that there is a lot of money in the stimulus for their districts. That is what is going to matter to them."
Obama will get some GOP supporters and is hoping yesterday's personal suasion flushed out a few more. His aides expect Republican backing to swell in coming weeks as the rescue bill works its way through the Senate and a conference committee to iron out a final version.
"We appreciate his openness to Republican solutions. Unfortunately, congressional Democrats have not shown the same willingness for bipartisan compromise - and that is reflected in their bill," said House GOP Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Both sides agreed the tone was cordial and polite. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs admitted there were some frustrations raised, but insisted with a smile that "nobody threw anything at anybody. ... Nobody yelled, 'Food fight.'"
Republicans urged Obama to include additional tax cuts in his spending package. Obama admitted that all of the spending in the bill won't be accomplished in two or three years, but declared he won't cut taxes by more than $275 billion.
Nonetheless, his goodwill was not lost on some Republicans, who recognize he has the most leverage and will prevail.
"Nobody did the wrong thing in the meeting, which is something you always worry about at these kinds of things," cracked Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), who was singled out by Obama as a lawmaker who knows when to cross party lines.
"I think he was genuine. He said, 'I'd rather be a one-term President who gets the job done than a two-term President who doesn't.' I believe him," said King, who said he was going to decide overnight how he will vote.