Obama to Talk Stimulus with Hill Leaders

President-elect Barack Obama will meet with Congressional leaders on Monday during his first full day back in Washington, D.C. in an attempt to assuage rising concerns among Republicans and some Democrats that his economic stimulus plan is too costly and too rushed.

Obama will first sit down with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) to discuss the scope and timing of a plan that could cost up to $775 billion, a Democratic source said Thursday.

Obama, Pelosi and Reid are then expected to meet with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY.) and House minority leader Republican John Boehner (R.-Ohio), the source said.

McConnell has been an increasingly vocal critic of Obama's plans for an economic stimulus package. He and Boehner called this week for giving lawmakers at least a week to review the legislation when it is completed and for holding committee hearings on the proposal before it goes to the floor for a vote. 

"A trillion-dollar spending bill would be the largest spending bill in the history of our country at a time when our national debt is already the largest in history," McConnell said in a statement this week. "As a result, it will require tough scrutiny and oversight."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told the Wall Street Journal this week that "significant work remains to be done" on the economic stimulus package.

"We need to do this right and make wise investments, plus members and the public need time to review it," Hoyer said in the interview published on Wednesday. "So the timing very well may slip."

Obama has made a near-trillion dollar economic stimulus package his incoming administration's top priority. His economic team has been crafting a plan that lawmakers have not seen, even as they've been told to expect to begin considering a stimulus package almost immediately after the new Congress convenes on Tuesday.

Pelosi has said she hopes to have an economic recovery bill on Obama's desk awaiting his signature when he takes office on January 20. But a spokesman for Reid recently indicated that Senate Democrats are going to need time to gain Republican support to approve the legislation. And the timing on a bill is more likely to be mid-February.

Obama has pledged to craft an economic stimulus package that will save or create 3 million jobs over the next two years.

 The package is expected to contain funding for states, with a focus on infrastructure projects, and tax cuts. It is also likely to include an effort to expand food stamp and unemployment benefits, and Obama's economic team is looking at ways to help families keep their health insurance coverage when the breadwinner is out of work.

The infrastructure spending breaks into several categories. Beyond roads and bridges, spending is expected to fund energy conservation projects, improving the electric grid, as well as some military construction.

Obama has also said he would like to see more investments in health information technology as well as broadband for schools.

In an email sent to House Democrats this week, Pelosi said lawmakers will move rapidly on a stimulus package after Congress reconvenes on January 6.

"The opening days of the Congress will be intense," Pelosi wrote.

On Wednesday, five economists, ranging from Martin Feldstein on the right to Robert Reich on the left, will testify at a House Steering & Policy Committee hearing on the economic stimulus package.

The other economists Pelosi said will testify before the committee include Mark Zandi, who was a chief economist of Moody's Economy.com and an adviser the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), Norm Augustine and Maria T. Zuber.

In her "Dear Colleagues" email, Pelosi promised the House will take up a stimulus bill before Obama is sworn in. She also said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) "has been working closely with the Senate," as well as the Obama team, on the economic stimulus plan.

Obey is quoted in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal saying he hoped for an earlier time table on a stimulus bill, but that Obama's economic team is still working out the details of the package.

A large economic stimulus package is been expected to have an easier time passing in the House, where Democrats hold a large majority. But Obama needs to bring Senate Republicans to his side, as they have enough members to filibuster his effort.

Obama's meetings next week are among his first moves in what is expected to be a strong push in January for economic recovery legislation. The sit-downs come almost immediately after his family relocates to D.C. on Sunday and after a 12-day holiday vacation in Hawaii.

Obama aides have said his team plans take their pitch for a stimulus package to voters at events around the country after he takes office.

David Rogers contributed to this report.

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