Republicans complained loudly to President Obama during a closed-door meeting Tuesday that House Democrats had shut them out of the process of writing the stimulus bill, said Republican members in the meeting.
The room burst into applause at the mention of congressional Democrats' alleged lack of bipartisan outreach. Obama did not come to their defense - a silence that many took to mean he acknowledged that lack of comity.
"I think the House Democrats have failed at bipartisanship, and I think he acknowledged that by what he didn't say as opposed to what he did," said Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.).
"He didn't say anything, but we got the message," said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.).
Obama debated House Republicans on differences in political philosophy for more than half an hour. If the purpose was to pick up votes for the House stimulus package in the short term, the visit to the Capitol was largely a failure, several Republicans said.
Obama did tell Republicans, said Bachus, that he would "consider more tax cuts," but defended the amount of cuts in the current bill. He also made the case for the heavy spending, using historical examples going back to the Great Depression to argue that government spending was necessary to turn the economy around.
"That's going to be a gulf," said Bachus of the divide over taxes and spending, "but it starts with communication and the visit today was a very big first step."
Indeed, both interlocutors are taking a longer view. Obama hopes to keep the GOP from outright revolt and House Republicans hope to make congressional Democrats appear partisan and out of step with a more conciliatory president.
Before the meeting, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that he would push Obama to play go-between House Democrats and Republicans, hoping to wring some changes out of the stimulus package.
He didn't make any promises to that effect, said Mica, but Obama did pledge to keep lines of communication with House Republicans open. The outreach continues this evening. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Penn.) said that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel invited a handful of moderate members of the "Tuesday Group" to the White House this evening in hopes of winning them over.
"The proof will be in the pudding," said Gerlach, noting his vote depended on what makes it into the final bill.
After spending the last several days pounding Democrats for including a provision in the stimulus that could be used to pay for contraceptives, the birth-control issue barely came up during the meeting.
"It just didn't come up in the Q&A," said Gerlach.
Bachus said the contraceptive issue came up "only in passing." Out of the public eye and in front of Obama, Republicans were less interested in making birth-control a major issue. "We all said, 'You can rifle shot any of these things in a bill and pick that out,'" said Bachus.
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