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Republicans stiff Obama on stimulus before he arrives on Capitol Hill

January 27, 2009 | 10:36 am

President Obama had not even arrived on Capitol Hill yet for his personal attempt to lobby reluctant Republicans on his $825-billion stimulus plan when House leaders started telling GOP colleagues to vote against it. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the Republican conference, said:

The Democrat bill won’t stimulate anything but more government and more debt. The slow and wasteful spending in the House Democrat bill is a disservice to millions of Americans who want to see this Congress take immediate action to get this economy moving again.

The thumbs-down seemed particularly ungracious given the unprecedented nature of Obama's outreach.

First, most presidents ask Congress to come to them -- not the other way around.

Next, it is very rare for a president to sit down to lunch with the opposing party before he's dined with his own.

Finally, Obama had already offered a concession to Republicans. Responding to GOP complaints, Obama urged Democrats on the Hill to drop the provision allowing states to offer Medicaid reimbursements for contraceptives without federal permission. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had defended the provision but Republicans ridiculed it as an example of spending that does not stimulate jobs.

Freed from the burden of defending President Bush, House Republicans are complaining loudly that taxes work better to stimulate the economy than spending increases. And mindful that the last stimulus plan seemed only to engender more job losses -- and that many of their conservative constituencies opposed it -- they are trying to score political points at home by opposing a popular president in Washington.

There was some hint that Obama's attempts to win some Republican votes for the stimulus package might be starting to irritate some Democrats. Obama was clever enough to ask Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, to accompany him.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer, while welcoming the president's bipartisan outreach, reminded the White House that Democrats have enough votes to pass the stimulus package without the Republicans.

"We'll do it without them if we have to," she said on MSNBC this morning.

-- Johanna Neuman

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