Obama meets with House GOP

The president went to the Hill looking for unity on a stimulus package; Congressional Republicans used the opportunity to score political points.

By Alex Koppelman

Published January 27, 2009 7:30PM (EST)

At this point, it's unlikely President Obama will be able to find any real measure of bipartisan unity and compromise on a stimulus package. But he's not giving up yet.

Obama was on the Hill Tuesday meeting with Congressional Republicans, first the House GOP and later their counterparts in the Senate. In a symbolic gesture, he met with the opposition before he met with his own party.

It's probably not going to matter: Before the president even arrived at the Capitol, various outlets were reporting that House Minority Leader John Boehner and his deputy, Rep. Eric Cantor, were telling their members to vote against the bill when it comes up for a vote Wednesday. As Politico put it in an article following Obama's first meeting of the day, "Obama's aides cast the visit as an outstretched hand -- and it got slapped.

"The bottom line: a coordinated effort to embarrass a president who looked largely unassailable just weeks ago."

Republicans continue to insist that tax cuts be added to the package, and some spending cut from it. They've won at least one victory so far, but aren't likely to wring many more concessions from the administration. During his meeting with the House Republicans, Obama was reportedly asked about coming to compromise on taxes by including an income tax cut. He responded by insisting that there was a need to focus at least in part on payroll taxes, to help families that don't pay income tax (most Americans pay more in payroll tax than they do in income tax), saying, "feel free to whack me over the head because I probably will not compromise on that part." He added, according to NBC's First Read, that he understands there's a time for politics and for the GOP to "beat him up," and said, "I understand that and I will watch you on Fox News and feel bad about myself."

In remarks to reporters afterwards, Obama acknowledged the difficulty he'll have in winning over Republican votes. "I am absolutely confident that we can deal with these issues, but the key right now is to make sure that we keep politics to a minimum," he said. "There are some legitimate philosophical differences with parts of my plan that the Republicans have, and I respect that. In some cases they may just not be as familiar with what's in the package as I would like. I don't expect a hundred percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people's business right now."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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