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Obama's stimulus plan to go on tour

December 31, 2008|Peter Nicholas

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to lead a full-scale marketing blitz to pass the massive new stimulus package that he says is needed to revive the slumping economy and put the nation on the course he laid out during his campaign.

Obama will move to Washington this weekend, checking into a hotel with his family. In the remaining weeks of the transition, and after he is sworn in, he will use the bully pulpit to make the case for passage of a stimulus package of up to $775 billion, an aide said.

Obama, now in Hawaii on vacation, may travel outside Washington after Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, while others in the new administration scatter across the country to explain in minute detail the scope and purpose of the stimulus plan, said David Axelrod, a senior advisor to the president-elect.

"We'll fan out, and this will be a public process," Axelrod said in an interview. "We'll make clear to people why we need to do what we're doing, why it's the size it is, what the individual component parts are, and why they are an important part of the equation in terms of short-term recovery."

Obama, he said, "wants the American people involved in this discussion."

But his stratagem of mobilizing grass-roots support and using his popularity to sway public opinion could inflame partisan tensions.

By mounting an aggressive public relations campaign, Obama may be seen as bypassing the GOP en route to a major legislative victory. For a new president who promised bipartisanship, Obama's methods could leave Republicans feeling isolated and marginalized.

Republicans, who seem convinced that the stimulus bill will ultimately pass, want it steered onto a slower track so they have more time to evaluate it with a view toward rooting out pork-barrel projects. That can't happen if a bill is sent to Obama for his signature on Jan. 20 or shortly thereafter, Republican leaders cautioned.

Republicans also want Obama to consult them in crafting the bill -- something they contend hasn't happened yet.

"They've not contacted us about putting together this package," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Obama doesn't want to see his first legislative initiative bog down in partisan infighting. So he will quickly strive to shape public opinion, casting the substantial stimulus package as crucial to the nation's recovery.

"There shouldn't be endless debate about it," Axelrod said. "People want this done right. And we want it to be done right. But they also want it to be done, and it shouldn't devolve into one of those protracted Washington posturing situations that people have little patience for.

"They want transparency and oversight and to know that the stuff that's being invested in is a wise investment," he said. "They should have that, and that's what we want. But it shouldn't take so long as to allow the economy to continue to slide down."

Axelrod said that the slumping economy and other domestic concerns were "front and center because it's what the American people are living with every day."

Even with Israel locked in an escalating battle with Hamas, Obama doesn't want foreign policy considerations to intrude on an ambitious domestic agenda, advisors say.

"Not that anyone is unconcerned about the situation in the Middle East," Axelrod said, "but when you're struggling because you've lost your job or are concerned about losing your job, or you can't get a loan for your business or send your kid to college, it's pretty hard to look past that."

Obama is to leave Honolulu on Thursday, stopping in Chicago before his move to Washington this weekend. He is arriving in the capital early to accommodate his two young daughters, who will start at the private Sidwell Friends School early next week.

Obama will probably stay in a Washington hotel at least until Jan. 15, when he moves into Blair House, the official residence for visiting dignitaries, across the street from the White House. Obama had wanted to check into Blair House sooner, but he was told by the Bush White House that receptions booked in advance prevented that.

Housing difficulties are the least of Obama's worries in Washington. He has called for a new, bipartisan approach to politics, but a classic partisan standoff is developing over his stimulus package.

The president-elect wants a two-year stimulus plan that includes a middle-class tax cut, along with money to rebuild roads, bridges and schools.

Obama touts the stimulus as a necessary step toward economic recovery. A report released Tuesday showed that home prices fell 18% in October compared with the year before -- the latest measure of the economic downturn.

Republicans are seeking certain guarantees: enough time for committee hearings and public review.

Members of Obama's transition team aren't setting a hard deadline for passage of the measure, but they want it signed soon after Inauguration Day. They say they won't tolerate delays.

Aides would not discuss certain aspects of the package, including the tax cut, saying the details were still being worked out.

But a House leadership aide said the tax cut may come in the form of a payroll tax reduction so that "there'd be more in your paycheck." The cut would potentially apply to people earning as much as $250,000 a year, the aide said.

A House vote on the bill may come the week of Jan. 12, the leadership aide said. A Senate timetable is less certain.

By invoking the threat of a filibuster, the Senate could delay passage. So for Obama to win swift adoption, a Senate aide said, Republican collaboration is essential.

"We expect to move as quickly as possible, but in the end it depends on what kind of cooperation we get from Republicans," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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