Obama seeks GOP help for recovery bill

US President Barack Obama makes remarks
President Barack Obama makes remarks on the economy during a bi-partisian meeting with members of Congress including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (C)D-CA on January 23, 2009 at the White House in Washington, D.C.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama's economic stimulus legislation is headed for the Senate after a surprisingly partisan vote in the House in which Republicans united in opposition and 11 mostly conservative Democrats defected.

Obama hailed his recovery plan, saying it would "save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years."

During Senate debate next week, the measure is expected to pick up at least some GOP support. But Obama's hopes of changing Washington's partisan culture went unmet despite the popular president's separate high-profile meetings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with House and Senate Republicans.

The $819 billion measure has attracted criticism from Republicans and, privately, from some Democrats for spending billions of dollars on Democratic favorites like education despite questions as to whether they would really put people to work.

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But with unemployment at its highest level in a quarter-century, the banking industry wobbling despite the infusion of staggering sums of bailout money and states struggling with budget crises, Democrats said the legislation was desperately needed.

The House plan largely reflects Obama's desires, but after zero GOP support, he suggested the House plan was hardly perfect.

"I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk," Obama said.

The 244-188 House vote registered 177 Republicans unanimous in opposition.

Tens of billions of dollars would go to the states, which confront deep budget cuts of their own. That money marks an attempt to ease the recession's effect on schools and poor people receiving Medicaid health coverage. There's also money for housing weatherization, school construction, road building and other provisions. There are big investments toward Obama's campaign promise of creating jobs that can reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

The centerpiece tax cut calls for a $500 break for single workers and $1,000 for couples, including those who don't earn enough to owe federal income taxes. There are also tax breaks for businesses making investments in equipment and renewable energy production.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was unfortunate that Republicans could not see fit to support the measure.

"Well, we are definitely stepping up to the plate to say we'll be accountable," she said in an interview broadcast Thursday. "Republicans have had their chance. They decided to oppose - that's their choice."

The California Democrat said her party has "echoed" Obama's call to action and is ready to defend the large amount of spending in the measure.

Appearing on another morning news show, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama will continue to work with Republicans to get a package that can win bipartisan support.

"The president knows it's going to take longer than a few days to change the ways Washington works," Gibbs said.

When asked whether Pelosi had failed the president by crafting a bill that that Republicans saw as too partisan to support, Gibbs replied: "This bill went through Congress, through its procedures. If people stop looking through the partisan lens and through the economic lens, they'll see it was put together with Democrats and Republicans and economists who supported us. Because it not only puts money in people's pockets, but it also creates jobs."

The House vote marked merely one of several steps for the legislation, which Democratic leaders have pledged to deliver to the White House for Obama's signature by mid-February.

Already a more bipartisan - and costlier - measure is taking shape in the Senate, and Obama personally pledged to House and Senate Republicans in closed-door meetings on Tuesday that he is ready to accept modifications as the legislation advances.

Democrats had already dropped provisions that Republicans had mocked, including money to resod the National Mall and expand family planning programs.

The Senate bill contains a plan that would cost approximately $70 billion to make sure that about 24 million mostly middle-class taxpayers don't get hit by the alternative minimum tax. Although welcome by many lawmakers, the move wouldn't do much to boost the economy since the AMT "patch" is expected anyway later in the year if it doesn't pass now.

Pelosi was interviewed on CBS's "The Early Show" and Gibbs appeared on NBC's "Today" program.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)