President Obama sells his stimulus plan
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
KAI RYSSDAL: This was a whirlwind day in the politics of the economic stimulus plan. In chronological order it went like this: President Obama took his bully pulpit on the road, he popped up in Elkhart Ind., where the unemployment rate is 15.3 percent to pressure Congress to pass his plan. Later the Senate gave the bill a key procedural thumbs up. And tonight the president was in the East Room for the first prime-time press conference of his term. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale has been covering all three of those stories. Hi John.
JOHN DIMSDALE: Hello, Kai.
RYSSDAL: Well let’s get to the press conference this evening, the first one, obviously, as I said of the president’s tenure. What struck you?
DIMSDALE: Well he’s been in a campaign mode the last few days. He’s trying to sell very quick action on a large stimulus plan to the Congress. And his opening statement tonight was just another in a series of sales pitches for more than $800 billion in government programs and tax cuts to jolt the economy, one that he said has bipartisan support.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It’s a plan that’s already supporting businesses representing almost every industry in America by both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It conveys input, ideas and compromises from both Democrats and Republicans.
RYSSDAL: The president made a trip today, John — speaking of businesses — out to Elkhart, Ind. talking to folks about this plan. Any differences in that message?
DIMSDALE: Well, yeah. He was actually using some pretty dire language to sell his plan. He was holding a campaign-style town meeting, taking questions from the audience. He’s trying to show the Republicans back in Washington that there’s a lot of support for the stimulus plan out in the country. But to do that, to drive home the point, he’s resorting to some pretty dramatic warnings about what the future will look like if nothing is done soon to stimulate the economy.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: More people will lose their homes and their health care. And our nation will sink into a crisis that at some point we may be unable to reverse.
DIMSDALE: Now tonight the first question at his first prime-time press conference was about that irreversible comment that he made, whether he’s resorting to politics of fear by using such dire warnings. Here’s how he responded.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I’ve said is what other economists have said across the political spectrum, which is that if you delay acting on an economy of this severity then you potentially create a negative spiral that becomes much more difficult for us to get out of.
RYSSDAL: Yeah, there was a lot in what the president said tonight. We had politics and Keynesian economics and all kinds of different things. The package now goes to the House and Senate negotiators — there’s about $20 billion of difference in the two plans. What are they going to be negotiating over, John?
DIMSDALE: Well to get the three Republican votes that the Democrats achieved in the Senate — the Northeast moderates — they’ve had to reduce some of the spending and raise some of the tax cuts. You know, even though the two bills are the same size in dollars, they’re very different in terms of what they do. The Senate has more tax cuts, less spending as conditions for those Republican votes. The House Democrats say that they’re going to try to pull the bill back in their direction — boost the spending for social safety net programs and help states to keep teachers and firefighters employed.
RYSSDAL: Before I let you go, John, we are getting up against that President’s Day deadline that pretty much everybody has agreed on. Are they going to get it done by the end of the week?
DIMSDALE: Well they’ve already slid several days in the Senate, they were hoping to have that done back on Friday. It’s looking possible, but not likely by President’s Day.
RYSSDAL: ‘Looking possible,’ the definitive word from our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale. Thank you, John.
DIMSDALE: Thanks Kai.
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