Updated 40m ago ( japanese dreams was right!)
Obama is scared to death as he loses grip over the Senate and is trying his best to buy off anybody he can. This is how things get done inside the beltway in DC.
By Richard Wolf and David Jackson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — When Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe walked into the Oval Office on Wednesday to discuss her objections to a roughly $900 billion economic stimulus plan pending in the Senate, she was surprised to find President Obama alone.
Through three decades in Congress and six presidencies, Snowe had never gone one-on-one in that office before. Past presidents always had staff members on hand. Obama, she quickly realized, is more informal.
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"He understands the Senate and the dynamics," said Snowe, whose moderate Maine politics has made her a potential ally of both liberals and conservatives. "It was clear to me that he wanted to get some Republicans."
On a day when Senate Democrats held a private retreat to discuss this year's agenda and Republicans continued to criticize the stimulus package, Obama targeted senators in the middle — moderates whose votes could make the difference.
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Although the House easily passed an $819 billion package of new spending and tax cuts last week without Republican votes, the Senate is different. Democrats have a 58-41 edge, counting two independents who usually vote with them, but 60 votes are needed to overcome delaying tactics. Obama knows that well from his four years there.
A vote is expected this weekend or early next week, followed by House-Senate negotiations. Obama would like the final product on his desk by Feb. 16, President's Day. On Feb. 24, he plans to address a joint session of Congress to discuss the economy and other issues.
As only the third president to be elected directly from the Senate — after Warren Harding and John Kennedy — Obama knows the senators. He campaigned for dozens of Democrats in 2006 before launching his own presidential bid. He donated nearly $900,000 to Senate and House Democrats during the past four years from his political action committee; 34 senators were beneficiaries.
Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations, said Obama's Senate connections give him "a modest advantage" in wooing former colleagues.
"He gets a more sympathetic audience," Hess said.
So on Wednesday, Obama invited Snowe, fellow Maine Republican Susan Collins and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson to the White House to discuss their concerns. They want to trim the spending in the bill and target it all toward job creation.
Nelson, who wants to cut more than $50 billion, is working with other moderate Democrats to come up with a list that could be acceptable to party leaders. Snowe said up to $100 billion could be eliminated.
Democrats already have removed funding for family planning, smoking cessation and fixing up the National Mall, but other programs remain that have given Republicans talking points. Collins cited pandemic flu preparedness and cybersecurity as examples that "may be worthwhile" but don't create jobs.
The White House claims more than 3 million jobs would be created or saved under the two-year measure. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, complained that each job could cost about $300,000 to create or save.
Obama responded to his opponents Wednesday. "A failure to act and act now will turn crisis into a catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession, a less robust recovery, and a more uncertain future," he said. "Millions more jobs will be lost. More businesses will be shuttered."
For at least the second time since his inauguration, Obama reminded lawmakers that he won the election. "I reject those theories," he said in reference to the criticism, "and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change."
Privately, he told Snowe, Collins and Nelson that he was willing to compromise, they said. Snowe gave him a list of spending items, such as buying furniture for the Homeland Security Department, that she said should be considered for removal.
"I think he's certainly prepared to accommodate changes," she said. "He understands what needs to happen."
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