Two weeks before assuming power, President-elect Barack Obama took his economic recovery package to Capitol Hill on Monday and worked to build a bipartisan coalition to endorse his plan of tax cuts and new spending with an urgent appeal “to break the momentum of this recession.”
Obama, on his first full day in Washington since the election, held a series of face-to-face meetings with Democrats and Republicans as he began investing his political capital. He spoke of the nation’s economic condition in dark terms and urged Congress to pass the legislation within a month.
“Right now, the most important task for us is to stabilize the patient,” Obama said. “The economy is badly damaged — it is very sick. So we have to take whatever steps are required to make sure that it is stabilized.”
The meetings were a mix of symbolism and substance between the man who will be sworn in as the 44th president and the congressional leaders who hold the fate of his agenda in their hands. The sessions, aides said, were particularly aimed at encouraging Republicans to buy into the plan and help ease resistance over a $775 billion price tag.
Obama pledged to help advance the legislation in any way he could, participants said, including inviting skeptical members of Congress to meet with him at his transition headquarters or at his temporary residence, the Hay-Adams Hotel.
“This is not a Republican problem or a Democratic problem at this stage,” Obama said Monday afternoon. “It is an American problem, and we’re going to all have to chip in and do what the American people expect.”
After meeting for about an hour in the Lyndon B. Johnson Room near the Senate chamber, congressional leaders said they expected a bipartisan effort to approve the massive economic stimulus package by early February. Lawmakers said they were waiting for Obama to present a written proposal — perhaps even draft legislation — within days. Various House and Senate committees would fill out the details.
The president-elect returned to the Capitol in the afternoon for a meeting with Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader. He then proceeded past a huge crowd of photographers to the meeting with House and Senate leaders from both parties.