Obama pledged a $500 tax credit for most workers during the campaign, costing the government as much as $150 billion. That proposal is widely thought to be a keystone of his stimulus plan. But lawmakers of both parties as well as many independent economists questioned whether such a tax reduction would be big enough to make much economic difference.
A Democratic official said there had been talk about bumping up the tax cut portion of the stimulus bill to lure more Republicans. But Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) said such a move could provoke resistance from Democrats.
"It's great to have our colleagues on board with us, but I didn't work hard to win back the majority to have to wait to get a green light from Republicans on everything," he said. "We've got good majorities now, and we've got to use them to do the kinds of work we weren't able to do when we didn't have those kinds of majorities."
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday complained about Democrats' plans for "massive increases in government spending." His staff distributed six pages of quotes from economists criticizing a stimulus bill that includes a large boost in government spending.
But none carried the weight of Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, a former top advisor to President Reagan, who told House Democrats on Wednesday that this recession called for a mix of tax cuts and significant government spending.
"It pains me to say that, because I'm a fiscal conservative who dislikes budget deficits and dislikes increases in government spending," he said. "But it is important to have that fiscal stimulus at this time and to design the tax cuts and the spending changes in the most cost-effective way."
Times staff writers Peter G. Gosselin and Doyle McManus contributed to this report.