President Obama listened to Republican gripes about his stimulus package during a meeting with congressional leaders Friday morning - but he also left no doubt about who's in charge of these negotiations. "I won," Obama noted matter-of-factly, according to sources familiar with the conversation.
The exchange arose as top House and Senate Republicans expressed concern to the president about the amount of spending in the package. They also raised red flags about a refundable tax credit that returns money to those who don’t pay income taxes, the sources said.
The Republicans stressed that they want to include more middle class tax cuts in the package, citing their proposal to cut the two lowest tax rates — 15 percent and 10 percent — to ten percent and five percent, rather than issue the refundable credit Obama wants.
At another point in the meeting, sources said Obama told the group: “This is a grave situation facing the country.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama would hold another economic meeting in the White House Saturday for a "broader group."
After Friday's meeting, Democratic and Republican leaders publicly wrangled over the developing stimulus plan.
But perhaps taking a cue from Obama’s “I won” line when Democrats were asked if they were concerned about Republicans blocking the package, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a swift one-word answer: “No.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bill was on track for passage by February 16, while Republicans continued to voice their opposition.
“We expressed our concerns about some of the spending that’s being proposed in the House bill,” House Minority Leader John Boehner said after meeting with Obama.
“How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives?” Boehner asked. “How does that stimulate the economy?”
Boehner said congressional Republicans are also concerned about the size of the package.
“Government can’t solve this problem,” he said.
Reid said a Congressional Budget Office report that says the stimulus funds won’t be pumped into the economy until 2010 doesn’t provide an accurate picture.
Republicans have used the report to back up their argument against a near $1 trillion package. But Reid said Obama Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag told them CBO only analyzed 40 percent of the bill.
He also said Orszag guaranteed “that at least 75 percent of the bill would go directly into the economy within the first 18 months.”
Pelosi suggested that the package, currently at $825 billion, could become even larger.
“It has grown,” Pelosi said, “and we’re still in the process.”