Obama renews push for economic stimulus plan

January 25, 2009|By Peter Nicholas | Peter Nicholas,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama, offering the first specifics on a key element in his $825 billion stimulus package, said yesterday that it would add 3,000 miles of electric transmission lines and double the nation's use of wind and solar power within three years.

But he pressed ahead in the face of continued Republican resistance to his ideas. Some Republicans rejected Obama's claim that he is open to their initiatives, renewing complaints that GOP proposals were being brushed aside as the administration and congressional Democrats hammered out details of the legislative package.

Obama used his first radio address to the nation as president in an apparent effort to build a broad public consensus behind a package that Obama acknowledged has generated skepticism, especially among Republicans.

He said it was needed to lift the economy out of one of the most serious economic downturns since the Great Depression. An "unprecedented crisis," Obama told listeners, calls for "unprecedented action."

Obama's stimulus - an early test of his skills in winning major legislation victories - is on track to pass before the congressional break in mid-February.

What remains unclear is whether it will attract significant Republican support.

In effect, the White House and congressional Republicans are engaged in the early stages of a political negotiation in which Obama seeks to pass his stimulus program with at least a plausible claim of bipartisan support and Republicans want to exert as much influence over the final package as they can without appearing to be obstructing action on a problem that has stirred deep concern among millions of voters.

The president travels to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with Republicans and invited them to discuss the plan in a meeting at the White House on Friday. But while Republicans seemed resigned to passage of the stimulus, they are complaining that the legislation moving through Congress contains none of their ideas.

The GOP is pushing especially hard for a new round of traditional tax cuts, while suggesting the Democrats are rushing into new government spending programs that will send the deficit soaring. Democrats insist that only large-scale federal action can stabilize the economy and begin the process of recovery.

Those competing positions were reflected in both Obama's radio speech and in GOP comments yesterday.

"On the House side they seem to be moving toward a vote on Wednesday, and unless there are some real changes in the bill, I can't imagine there will be much if any Republican support," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House minority leader John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican

Boehner gave a radio address of his own yesterday, in which he called for a stimulus plan that relies mostly on tax cuts - "not slow-moving government spending programs."

Boehner cast the proposal by Obama and Democratic leaders as fraught with wasteful spending. He cited plans to pump $6 billion into wealthy colleges and universities; set aside $600 million for the federal government to buy new cars and lay out $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Even though the main action is in Congress, both Obama and the Republicans want to mobilize voters. If Boehner wanted to stoke outrage, Obama's strategy is to persuade Americans that the stimulus would improve their lives in concrete ways.

The White House says the plan will modernize 10,000 schools, improving the classroom setting for 5 million school children. A centerpiece is alternative energy. Obama is proposing to reduce energy costs by weatherizing two million homes and 75 percent of all federal buildings.

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