WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama received a rude welcome to Washington today as congressional Democrats dashed his hopes for a speedy response to the worst economic crisis in decades.
Even before Obama’s plane landed, House and Senate Democratic leaders put him on notice that he won’t have a broad economic stimulus plan ready for his signature at soon as he takes office Jan. 20, as he had hoped.
“It’s going to be very difficult to get the package put together that early,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said. “But we certainly want to see this package passed through the House of Representatives no later than the end of this month, get it over to the Senate, and have it to the president before we break” in mid-February.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged to reporters flying on Obama’s plane to Washington that the Jan. 20 goal for enactment of a stimulus plan is “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,” he said.
Obama planned to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Monday to talk about enacting a massive spending plan. The president-elect also scheduled a separate meeting with the entire Democratic and Republican leadership teams.
Reid said they will do their “very very best” to get a package finished as soon as possible, but he was unwilling to set an artificial deadline for completion.
“We’re going to get it done as quickly as we can,” Reid said.
Added Hoyer: “We’re going to move as quickly as possible, given our responsibilities to make sure that we’re passing a package that will work.”
Obama said Congress should pass a plan designed to create 3 million jobs. The Democratic president-elect hasn’t announced a final price for it, but aides said the cost could be as high as $775 billion.
Congressional aides briefed on the measure say it probably would blend tax cuts of $500 to $1,000 for middle-class individuals and couples with about $200 billion to help revenue-starved states with their Medicaid programs and other operating costs. A large portion of the measure will go toward public works projects and include new programs such as research and development on energy efficiency and an expensive rebuilding of the information technology system for health care.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky warned Democrats against trying to move quickly without the GOP’s input.
“This is an enormous bill. It could be close to a $1 trillion spending bill,” McConnell said. “Do we want to do it with essentially no hearings, no input, for example, in the Senate from Republican senators who represent half of the American population? I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Instead of giving all that money to states as grants, McConnell suggested it go as loans.
“It will make them spend it more wisely,” McConnell said. “The states that didn’t need it at all wouldn’t take any.”
Democrats understand that the GOP has to be involved in anything they do, said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.
“Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid both know that we can’t pass the economic recovery plan that this nation desperately needs without bipartisan cooperation,” Durbin said. “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.”
Hoyer said they have only two criteria for passing an economic package.
“Do it as quickly as possible, but do it right, and do it so the American people know what we’re doing, do it so that members of Congress are confident of the action that we’re taking,” Hoyer said. “So those are the two criteria — do it as quickly as possible, but do it right. I think that time frame is hopefully certainly by the end of the month.”
Hoyer spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” Reid appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” while Durbin and McConnell were on “This Week” on ABC.