Congress Debates Stimulus; Obama Awaits

One of President Obama's first goals after his swearing in is to pass a multibillion-dollar stimulus package. His administration has promised to reach a bipartisan consensus on the plan, but leaders in Congress continue to argue over the details.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. President Obama spent much of the day yesterday in meetings about the economy. It doesn't sound like a cheery day. The administration is pledged to reach bipartisan consensus on an economic stimulus package to signify the Democrats and Republicans agree the economy is in serious crisis and something bold needs to be done. So far, the lineup in Congress seems to be divided. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: The president's schedule yesterday included four separate economic meetings, one with his choice to be Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, another on the federal budget. His daily calendar now includes a daily economic briefing not unlike the national security brief the president receives every morning. And there was a morning session Friday in the Roosevelt Room with the Democratic and Republican leadership from Capitol Hill. The topic there was the proposed $825 billion economic stimulus currently being debated on the Hill.

President BARACK OBAMA: I want to thank both the House and the Senate for moving forward very diligently on this process of getting a recovery and renewal plan passed. I know that it is a heavy lift to do something as substantial as we're doing right now...

GONYEA: The president acknowledged that there were differences around the table on the details both between the administration and Congress, and among leaders in Congress. Afterward, in the White House driveway, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was pleased that Mr. Obama had sought GOP input.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): The administration strikes me as open to our suggestions, and we've made a number of them, both Senate and House leadership. I do think we'll be able to meet the president's deadline of getting a package to him by mid-February.

GONYEA: He was joined at the mike by House Republican Leader John Boehner, who was more directly critical, though not of the president.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): You know, 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? You can go through a whole host of issues in this bill that have nothing to do with growing jobs in America and helping people keep their jobs.

GONYEA: One of the disagreements involves the way tax cuts are administered. The Republicans want tax reductions for all working Americans who pay income taxes and for businesses. And they oppose a plan to give a cut to all Americans, even those who don't earn enough to pay income taxes. They call that a government giveaway. But the president disagrees and argues that the November election result backs his position. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the divide.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): This is work in progress. It didn't end today. It didn't start today. There's a committee process. There's a floor process. We all understand the different sausage-making aspects of legislation. I think it's a little premature to prejudge all of this.

GONYEA: But not premature to argue about it, which is what Washington does best. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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