President Obama on Tuesday planned to press his case directly to Republican lawmakers who have balked at supporting his proposed $825 billion economic stimulus plan.
Obama was making his first trip to Capitol Hill since Inauguration Day for two private afternoon sessions with House and Senate Republicans, many of whom have expressed concern about the cost and substance of the plan.
The stimulus gained even more urgency for the administration in recent days amid the announcement of some 50,000 layoffs by prominent companies across the economic spectrum, from manufacturers of automobiles and electronics to retailers.
On Tuesday, the National Retail Federation forecast 2009 would include the first sales decline in three decades.
The president has repeatedly said he wants to sign a plan into law by the middle of next month.
Republicans have complained about massive new spending contained in the bill -– spending that Democrats say is essential to save jobs and boost the economy. Republicans also have expressed dismay at what they call flawed tax provisions.
The package's current incarnation calls for roughly two-thirds to be in the form of new spending on everything from unemployment aid to construction projects, with the rest consisting of tax cuts for individuals and businesses.
Obama's meetings on Tuesday follow a similar bipartisan gathering with congressional leaders on the economy last week.
"The goal is to seek their input," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday. The president "wants to hear their ideas.
"If there are good ideas — and I think he assumes there will be — we will look at those ideas," Gibbs added.
The stimulus measure is widely expected to pass Congress with bipartisan support, but the administration wants something as close to a consensus as possible. That could prove a tall order, with the likes of House Republican Leader John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell expressing resistance to the measure in its current form.
McConnell went so far as to blame Democrats for the holdup.
"We're anxious to help him," the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday of Obama. "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."
Making the White House sell a bit harder is the release this week of a Congressional Budget Office analysis that found that Obama's plan would flow money into the economy a little more slowly than he predicted.
From NPR staff and wire reports.