By Joseph Williams, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- As details of his massive economic stimulus plan begin to emerge, President-elect Barack Obama engaged in rare, pre-inaugural lobbying for it on Capitol Hill today, building bipartisan support among lawmakers for a federal spending and tax-relief package that could cost more than $775 billion.
Obama also plans to lay out further details about the plan in a prime-time, nationally-televised address scheduled for Thursday.
But Obama, still 15 days from being sworn in as president, has all but conceded that he will miss his goal of signing a spending bill on his first day in office, a move he hoped would signal urgency in tackling the nation's worst economic crisis in generations.
Though Democrats predict that Obama could get a bill on his desk by February, analysts said that Republicans' calls to scrutinize his plan -- and the inclusion of more than $300 billion in individual and business tax cuts -- could further slow the legislation.
Obama spent his first full day in Washington as president-elect huddling separately one-on-one with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and also meeting with a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers. By afternoon, shortly before meeting with his economic team, Obama warned that any delays in passing a stimulus bill will further damage a badly ailing economy that is getting worse by the day.
"The economy is very sick," said Obama, who said he hoped to sign a bill shortly after his Jan. 20 inauguration. "We have to act and act now to break the momentum of this recession."
Pelosi and Reid, the top two Democrats, said at a press conference today they intend to do everything they can to meet Obama's expectations. Reid said they told Obama "we would join together and try to move some economic recovery relief to the American people as quickly as possible."
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate, said he believed that cooperation "was sincere on all sides" and praised Obama for being willing to consider Republican ideas.
McConnell predicted widespread GOP enthusiasm because a significant percentage of the package includes tax relief. "The best way to stimulate the economy obviously is to put money directly in the pockets of taxpayers," he said.
Obama dismissed suggestions that the tax relief he wants for workers and businesses are sweeteners to attract skeptical Republicans concerned about runaway government spending. Though Democrats hold a majority in both houses of Congress, they don't have enough votes to defeat a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
Because it was the bedrock of his economic agenda during the campaign, he said, calling the middle-class tax cuts a political ploy "doesn't make much sense."
Representative John Boehner of Ohio, the top Republican in the House, raised two major remaining GOP concerns: that the bill will be rushed through Congress without adequate time to review it, and that the spending plan will be loaded down with unnecessary federal spending projects, adding trillions to the rapidly ballooning national debt.
"I'm a little concerned myself about the overall size of the package," Boehner said, raising concerns that it would saddle future generations with a burden it will struggle to pay. "While we want to get the economy moving again, the overall size and how we craft this is going to be very important."
Barry Bosworth, an economist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said emphasizing tax cuts could make any bill more difficult to push through Congress because tax legislation typically attracts bipartisan wrangling, while the demands to keep the process open and transparent "slows everything down."
While Congress works out the details, "a lot more people are going to be unemployed," Bosworth said.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.