President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats sought to ease Republican complaints about a massive economic stimulus plan Friday, meeting with GOP leaders in the White House and promising to consider some of their recommendations.
Many Republican lawmakers say the $825 billion package is too costly, and that too much of the spending is for long-range projects that will not stimulate the economy quickly. Some economists say the package should be even bigger, however, and it was unclear whether Republicans would have much impact.
House and Senate GOP leaders "had some constructive suggestions, which we'll review," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters after the meeting with Mr. Obama and House and Senate leaders from both parties in the White House's Roosevelt Room.
Speaking briefly before the meeting started, Mr. Obama urged bipartisan support for the package, adding that he wanted to hear the Republicans' concerns.
"I know that it is a heavy lift to do something as substantial as we're doing right now," Mr. Obama said. "I recognize that there are still some differences around the table and between the administration and members of Congress about particular details on the plan.
"But I think what unifies this group is a recognition that we are experiencing an unprecedented, perhaps, economic crisis that has to be dealt with, and dealt with rapidly."
He thanked congressional leaders for working quickly to move the rescue package that he says will create 3 million to 4 million new jobs.
"That is going to be absolutely critical and it appears that we are on target to make our President's Day weekend," he said. President's Day falls on Monday, Feb. 16.
Mr. Obama wants it known that he'll be paying very close attention to the financial crisis, getting a daily economic briefing, just as he does for national security, reports CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante.
"The president asked that this be added to the schedule as the country is in the midst of an economic crisis and emergency," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Mr. Obama also said that any legislation governing the use of an additional $350 billion in financial industry bailout money must include new measures to ensure accountability and transparency.
After the meeting, House Republican Leader John Boehner said he and his colleagues told Mr. Obama they feel the stimulus package is too expensive and too slow. He said Republicans told Mr. Obama of their own plans to "get fast-acting tax relief in the hands of American families and small businesses, because, at the end of the day, government can't solve this problem."
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia interviewed on CBS's The Early Show Thursday, said Republicans worry that much of the plan that Democrats are pushing "does not stimulate the economy," said Cantor. He singled out a provision that would spend millions to weatherize poor people's homes, saying it was a worthy goal but that it does nothing to create new jobs.
"[It] may be a good thing" Cantor asked.
Mr. Obama's meeting with the bipartisan leadership Friday comes in the midst of increasingly grim economic news. Government reports showed the number of newin December. Microsoft Corp. said it would over the next 18 months, while chemical maker Huntsman Corp. said it would cut more than 1,600 employees and contractors combined.
Republicans have been seeking deeper tax cuts and have said there was no reliable estimate of the bill's impact on employment.
Democrats tried to mitigate the impact of a Congressional Budget Office study that questioned administration claims that the money could be spent fast enough to reduce joblessness quickly.
After attending the White House meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said there was "significant discussion about the CBO numbers." He said Mr. Obama's budget director, Peter Orszag, who recently headed the CBO, told participants that the study analyzed only 40 percent of the pending stimulus bill and that Orszag "would guarantee that at least 75 percent of the bill would go directly into the economy within the first 18 months."
Also on Friday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus unveiled a Senate version of the tax-cutting portion of the bill. Social Security recipients would get a bonus payment of $300 under the plan. Its tax cuts and spending proposals total $355 billion. It will be paired with $400 billion in further spending proposed by the Appropriations Committee on the Senate floor.
The House version of the bill advanced in committees this week. Republicans, who are in the minority, were unable to make inroads with their proposals.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday approved $275 billion in tax cuts on a party-line vote of 24-13. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, also working on the bill, cleared $2.8 billion to expand broadband communications service. And on Wednesday night, the House Appropriations Committee approved a $358 billion spending measure on a 35-22 party-line vote.
Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet with House Republicans next week, at their request. But by then the House bill could be on the floor awaiting a vote.