WASHINGTON - On the eve of a key vote, President Barack Obama privately promised Republicans he stands ready to accept changes in the $825 billion economic stimulus legislation, invoked Ronald Reagan to rebut conservative critics and urged lawmakers to 'put politics aside' in the interest of creating jobs.
'The American people expect action,' Obama said Tuesday as he shuttled between closed-door meetings with House and Senate Republicans on a trip to the Capitol that blended substance with political symbolism.
Republicans who attended the sessions said the president did not agree to any specific changes but did pledge to have his aides consider some that GOP lawmakers raised dealing with additional tax relief for businesses.
Prodded to budge on another point, Obama said that despite opposition, he will insist on giving relief to wage-earners who pay Social Security taxes but do not earn enough to owe income tax. His spokesman said the president reminded his critics that former President Reagan - conservative hero to many contemporary Republicans - supported the same concept while in the White House.
In a measure of the complex political dynamic in Congress, House Republican leaders urged their rank and file to oppose the stimulus measure hours before Obama arrived.
One Republican later quoted the president as saying any changes would have to come after the House gives what is expected to be largely party-line approval today to the Democratic-backed bill. Debate began late in the day on the measure, which includes about $550 billion in spending and roughly $275 billion in tax cuts.
The Senate shows signs of greater bipartisanship, including a decision in the Finance Committee on Tuesday to add a new tax break for upper middle-income taxpayers, at a one-year cost of $70 billion.
Democratic leaders in both houses have promised to have legislation ready for Obama's signature by mid-February, and Tuesday's developments coincided with fresh evidence of deterioration in a national economy seemingly growing weaker by the day.
Housing prices tumbled by the sharpest annual rate on record in November, according to a closely watched private report released during the day, and a measure of consumer confidence dropped to a historic low.
Separately, the Treasury Department announced distribution of $386 million to 23 troubled banks, the first awards from the federal bailout fund since Obama took office a week ago.
Obama traveled to and from the Capitol in a snowy motorcade on Tuesday, far different from the inaugural parade seven days earlier. This was a business trip, marking his second reach across party lines in as many days in keeping with a pledge to seek bipartisan solutions to major problems.