Barack Obama is heading to Capitol Hill to push for quick action on a broad economic stimulus package that congressional leaders are saying won’t be ready until mid-February at the earliest — almost a month later than the president-elect wanted.
Obama planned to meet Monday with House and Senate Democratic leaders and with a bipartisan group of key lawmakers. He had hoped to have Congress enact the recovery plan in time for him to sign his when he takes office Jan. 20. But even his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, conceded Sunday night that was “very, very unlikely.”
“We don’t anticipate that Congress will have passed, both houses, an economic recovery agreement by the time the inauguration takes place,” Gibbs said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Sunday he wants the House to approve the plan by the end of the month, sending it to the Senate in time for action before Congress leaves on its mid-February break.
Obama has insisted bold and quick action is necessary if the nation is to rebound from the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. He has said repeatedly he wants a plan that will create 3 million new jobs.
“Economists from across the political spectrum agree that if we don’t act swiftly and boldly, we could see a much deeper economic downturn that could lead to double-digit unemployment and the American dream slipping further and further out of reach,” he said in his Saturday radio and YouTube address.
Obama arrived Sunday night in Washington — a place he largely has shunned since winning election — just hours after New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew from consideration as commerce secretary amid a grand jury investigation into how some of his political donors won a lucrative state contract.
The Richardson withdrawal marked the first major hiccup in a transition that saw Obama select his Cabinet in record time, largely because of the magnitude of the economic and national security challenges facing the new administration.
Obama aides have said the package Obama has dubbed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan could cost as much as $775 billion. The president-elect has refused to put a price tag to the plan.
Congressional aides briefed on the measure say it likely will include tax cuts of $500 to $1,000 for middle-class individuals and couples, as well as some $200 billion to help revenue-starved states pay for health care programs for the poor and other operating costs. A large part of the new spending would go for infrastructure projects, blending old-fashioned road and bridge repairs with new programs to advance energy efficiency and rebuild health care information technology systems.
Obama advisers told The New York Times on Sunday that tax cuts for workers and businesses could total $300 billion.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Sunday he understands what Obama wants but doesn’t want to provide a blank check.
“We want to make sure it’s not just a trillion-dollar spending bill, but something that actually can reach the goal that he has suggested,” McConnell told ABC’s “This Week.”
Obama and his allies have said they want bipartisan support for the plan.
“Mitch McConnell and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid both know that we can’t pass the economic recovery plan that this nation desperately needs without bipartisan cooperation,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “We’ve got to put aside a lot of the squabbling that in the past and come together under this new administration and new leadership, to get the American economy back on line.”