WASHINGTON — Republicans signaled Sunday that they would not be daunted by President Obama's soaring approval ratings, criticizing his proposed $825-billion economic stimulus plan, his strategy for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and his decision to exempt a top-ranking Pentagon appointee from new ethics rules.
Some of the sharpest criticism came from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party's challenger to Obama in the election and the recipient of aggressive outreach as part of the new president's efforts to forge an image of bipartisanship.
Obama honored McCain on the eve of last week's inauguration with a bipartisan candlelight dinner, and he has solicited his former rival's advice on top appointments. McCain has returned the favor by pressing fellow Republicans to speedily confirm Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But Sunday, McCain had few kind words for Obama's initial moves as president. He called it "disingenuous" for the White House to impose new rules to limit the influence of lobbyists but immediately claim an exemption for William Lynn III, the nominee to be deputy Defense secretary, who has lobbied on behalf of defense contractor Raytheon Co.
McCain said he would not have announced the pending closure of Guantanamo, as Obama did last week by signing an executive order, without having first decided what to do with the 245 detainees being held there.
And the senator said he would not support the stimulus plan in its current form, asserting that it should have more tax cuts and less emphasis on projects, such as repairing the National Mall or extending broadband access to rural areas.
"There's got to be some kind of litmus as to whether it will really stimulate the economy," McCain said on "Fox News Sunday," adding later: "There has to be major rewrites [of the legislation] if we want to stimulate the economy."
McCain's comments were echoed by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he and many of his colleagues could not support the measure in its current form because they "see this as a lot of wasteful Washington spending, padding the bureaucracy and doing nothing to help create jobs and preserve jobs."
The plan being pushed by Obama and Democratic congressional leaders would add thousands of miles of electronic transmission lines, retool thousands of schools and federal buildings and build infrastructure to promote wind and solar energy. It contains $275 billion in tax cuts -- not nearly as much as Republicans want -- and would fund a range of programs that GOP officials say are unnecessary or would not stir economic activity quickly enough.
The White House has set a goal of spending three-quarters of the money within 18 months and wants Congress to pass the plan by mid-February.
One of Obama's top economic advisors, Lawrence H. Summers, told NBC that the stimulus plan was a "properly sized approach to move the economy forward."
Summers did not rule out additional government investment in troubled banks. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said on ABC's "This Week" that it could be necessary.