Obama Mounts Media Blitz For Stimulus Plan

President Barack Obama speaks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 9, 2009, during his meets with Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
AP Photo/Ron Edmonds
President Barack Obama planned to spend Tuesday waging an all-out media blitz to promote passage of his $800 billion-plus stimulus plan, which faces assaults from both Democrats and Republicans during debate in the Senate this week.

Mr. Obama was slated to give a series of Oval Office television interviews. He spoke with Democratic congressional leaders about the spending and tax-cut package on Monday afternoon at the White House, and planned to talk economics with the Democratic rank-and-file at House and Senate retreats later in the week.

President Obama's young administration faced an unwelcome distraction to its efforts to gain support for the stimulus plan as a second Cabinet nominee faced questions over his tax returns

Former Sen. Tom Daschle apologized Monday for failing to pay more than $120,000 in taxes and appealed to his former colleagues in the Senate to approve him all the same. Mr. Obama said he was "absolutely" sticking with his nominee for health secretary.

The White House both underscored the magnitude of the problem and tried to downplay it in the space of seven words. "Nobody's perfect," said press secretary Robert Gibbs. "It was a serious mistake. ..."

The administration did receive some welcome news when another Cabinet choice, Eric Holder, was confirmed by the Senate late Monday. Holder was to be sworn in Tuesday to become the first African-American U.S. attorney general.

Holder's nomination initially had been viewed as problematic because of questions over his role in controversial pardons when he was the No. 2 Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton. Now Holder will be the country's chief law enforcement official as head of the Justice Department.

Holder easily overcame some Republican objections over what they considered his insufficient commitment to fight terror and his support for gun control, but even his critics agreed that Holder was well-qualified for the post.

Nobody was predicting defeat for Daschle's nomination as secretary of health and human services, but it was proving an unsavory pill to swallow for senators who only last week confirmed Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary despite his separate tax-payment problems. The issue strikes a nerve as many Americans are struggling with their own serious money problems.

The Commerce Department reported that personal spending fell for the sixth straight month in December by 1 percent. Analysts had predicted a decline of 0.9 percent. Incomes also dipped, and the personal savings rate shot higher, a sign that consumers remain extremely nervous about the economy.

The president predicted Monday some of America's troubled banks still could fail, despite a $700 billion financial bailout program, half of which has already been spent by the former Bush administration. The bailout program is separate from the Obama administration's stimulus plan.

Democrats are already under pressure from moderates in their own party to scale back spending in the $885 billion stimulus bill under consideration in the Senate.

"What we can't do is let very modest differences get in the way" of swift enactment of the legislation, Mr. Obama said Monday as new layoffs rippled through the economy and the Commerce Department reported an unexpectedly large sixth straight drop in personal spending.

In an interview Sunday, President Obama said, "I am confident that by the time we have the final package on the floor that we are going to see substantial support, and people are going to see this is a serious effort. It has no earmarks. We are going to be trimming out things that are not relevant to putting people back to work right now."

Of note is the fact that the administration has almost completely stopped offering number estimates on what Republican support they can count on. Gone from their nomenclature is the confident estimation that the bill will pass with the support of 80 senators.

Top Senate Democrats plan to add a big increase in highway and mass transit funding to Mr. Obama's economic recovery program Tuesday, even as others in the president's party hope to rein in the plan's almost $1 trillion cost to taxpayers. Republicans, for their part, readied a plan to lower mortgage costs to try to jolt the housing market out of its slump.

In the Capitol, Republicans said their goal was to change the bill, not to block it. "Nobody that I know of is trying to keep a package from passing," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

"We need to fix housing first," he said.

Nineteen Democratic and Republican governors, meanwhile, cited frozen credit markets and rising unemployment in urging lawmakers to resolve their differences and asking Mr. Obama to sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk. The governors said the money it provides for public education, health care and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure will create and preserve jobs while making a sound investment in the country's long-term economic interests.

"While we all believe in the importance of free markets, we believe that the markets today need stimulating," the governors told the president in a letter dated Monday. Among the signers were Democrats Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Charlie Crist of Florida.

Mr. Obama has struggled to win Republican support in Congress for his stimulus plan. He did not win any Republican votes when the $819 billion version of the bill passed the House of Representatives last week.

Separately, the financial bailout program appeared likely to be expanded beyond the $700 billion now allocated by Congress.

"We can expect that we're going to have to do more to shore up the financial system," Mr. Obama said in an interview with NBC television.

Geithner plans to announce a new framework for rescuing the financial sector in a speech next week. The plans will focus on how to use the remaining $350 billion in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that Congress approved last fall. It will include new programs aimed at helping homeowners stave off foreclosure, and efforts to stabilize the banking sector.

The massive infusion of taxpayer money into the financial sector has largely failed to thaw U.S. credit markets, while some financial institutions used the money to pay dividends, buy other banks and pay out big year-end bonuses to employees.

Meanwhile, the White House confirmed that Mr. Obama will nominate Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as commerce secretary on Tuesday. The fiscally conservative Gregg would be the third Republican to join the president's Cabinet, if confirmed.