The bill now being debated in the Senate includes, as Couric noted, "$6.2 billion for home weatherization, $100 million for children to learn green construction, $50 million for port modernization water and wastewater infrastructure needs in Guam, $50 million for the NEA, the National Endowment for the Arts."
"Well, let's think about it," the president said, seizing on the weatherization example. "We're going to weatherize homes, that immediately puts people back to work and we're going to train people who are out of work, including young people, to do the weatherization. As a consequence of weatherization, our energy bills go down and we reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What would be a more effective stimulus package than that?"
While the president is backing the provisions publicly, however, behind closed doors the White House may be working to fight some of the spending in the bill that might be considered pork.
In an interview with Liberadio that was picked up by the Nashville Post, Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee said he was encouraged by the Obama administration to fight against some of the bill's more controversial provisions when it was in the House.
"I probably shouldn't tell you this, but I actually got some quiet encouragement from the Obama folks for what I'm doing," said Cooper, a relatively conservative "Blue Dog" Democrat who opposed the stimulus bill. "They know it's a messy bill and they wanted a clean bill."
Cooper added that he "got in terrible trouble with our leadership because they don't care what's in the bill, they just want it pass and they want it to be unanimous."
"We're just told how to vote," he continued. "We're treated like mushrooms most of the time."
The White House "want[s] to keep the Speaker happy and the traditional Democratic leaders, but they've let them know privately they're not interested in all this pork," he said.
Contacted by Politico, the White House press office and the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not immediately offer comment on Cooper's claims.
The Tom Daschle saga, which capped an embarrassing series of tax problems for the president's choices for key administration positions, took some of the focus off the growing criticism from conservative commentators and Republican lawmakers of some of the spending in the stimulus bill yesterday.
But the criticism is not going away; yesterday, Republicans released to news organizations a list of the bill's provisions that they consider wasteful, a list designed to spur outrage among ordinary Americans already frustrated with government spending over the past few months.
It's not hard to imagine, then, that the White House is quietly working to tamp down on some of the spending in the stimulus bill – particularly as it needs some Republican support to get through the Senate with the necessary 60 votes. While the president and Congressional Democrats may be offering a united front publicly, Cooper's comments suggest a different story behind closed doors.