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Obama Heads To Hill To Sell Stimulus To GOP

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. And in this segment of the program, the new president tries to set a new precedent. Rather than seeking out fellow Democrats today, Barack Obama went to Capitol Hill to make a pitch to the Republican minority. Mr. Obama is pushing for bipartisan support for the gigantic economic recovery package. In a moment, we'll hear from a Republican House member about whether they were sold at that meeting. First, NPR's David Welna at the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA: If there's a word to describe how Republican lawmakers feel about the $825 billion stimulus package working its way through Congress, it's "skeptical." Here's Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn today contrasting his view of that package with how Democrats see it.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): And what I hear is a lot of certitude, but an amazing lack of real certainly about whether this bill is likely to work. And I have questions, serious questions, and doubts about whether it will.

WELNA: And listening to such questions and doubts is how President Obama spent several hours at the Capitol today.

President BARACK OBAMA: Hello, everybody.

WELNA: The president was in good spirits as he came out of a closed-door session with House Republicans.

President OBAMA: I recognize that we're not going to get 100 percent of support, but I think everybody there felt good about - that I was willing to explain how we put the package together and how we were thinking about it and that we continue to work with some good ideas.

WELNA: Moments later, House Minority Leader John Boehner confirmed it was, indeed, a good meeting he and his fellow Republicans had had with Mr. Obama.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): We had a very good conversation with the president. He reiterated his desire to work with us, to try to find common ground where we could. Clearly there are some differences that were expressed.

WELNA: Without going into details, Minority Whip Eric Cantor made clear that one of those differences was over the spending that makes up two-thirds of the House stimulus package.

Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia): Because we feel that so much of the spending that's in the bill frankly, although it may be laudable in and of itself, has no place in the stimulus bill, which ought to be focused like a razor on the preservation, protection, and creation of jobs.

WELNA: Republicans are pushing for a stimulus bill that includes even more tax cuts. And they also feel that, unlike President Obama, congressional Democrats have turned a deaf ear to their demands. Indiana's Mike Pence accused them today of completely ignoring the president's call for bipartisan cooperation.

Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): The bill that is scheduled to the come to the floor this week will come to the floor without any consultation among House Republicans and with categorical opposition to the kind of Republican solutions that we believe are necessary to truly get this economy moving again.

WELNA: President Obama went from the House to the Senate where he joined Republican senators for their weekly closed-door luncheon. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl said while the president made no commitments, he did agree to look at a lot of things suggested by Republicans. Kyl, too, laments that congressional Republicans don't get an equal hearing from the big Democratic majorities that control both chambers.

Representative JOHN KYL (Republican, Arizona): Somebody said, well, but they won. And that's true. And the question is how do you want to govern? You could govern with 100 percent Democratic solution. I don't think President Obama wants to do that. In that regard, he may have to work with House and Senate leaders to be a little more solicitous of Republican views.

WELNA: Despite their complaints, Republican lawmakers today seemed genuinely pleased and touched that a new Democratic president would make a trip to Capitol Hill just to hear their views. President Obama may not need many of their votes to get a stimulus package passed, and it's not clear how much he's willing to compromise to bring more Republicans onboard, but as he left the Capitol, an aura of goodwill seemed to linger behind. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.