By JILLIAN JORGENSEN
Special to the Union Leader
Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009
WASHINGTON – Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., called yesterday’s Capitol Hill meeting between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans a “substantive and free-flowing discussion,” praising Obama’s presentation on the proposed $825 billion economic stimulus package and saying he would not be “dogmatic” when it came to voting on the package.
“The President’s presentation was exceptional. It was an extremely comprehensive explanation of how he saw the problems and how he intends to address them,” Gregg said after the closed-door meeting.
“He made a spirited defense of the stimulus package and why he felt that was part of the process.”
Earlier yesterday, in his opening statement at the Appropriations Committee consideration of the stimulus package, Gregg cautioned that “we need a stimulus which stimulates.” He voiced several concerns, including that the package calls for spending into 2018, does not emphasize enough job growth in the next two years and does not direct enough money to stabilizing real estate costs.
“I’ve been aggressive in saying we need a major stimulus package, so I’ve not been reticent on that. I just thought this stimulus package did not put the money on target,” Gregg said.
He said those concerns were brought up by “almost everybody” at the meeting with President Obama, and the Republican senators focused their questions on “how to get the most for the dollars we’re spending here, and especially focus it on real estate and keeping people in their homes.”
Gregg, who voted against the stimulus bill in the Appropriations Committee, said he expected some amendments to be proposed by Republican senators, and he wanted to see how the bill “works out on the floor.”
“I may vote for it when it goes to the floor,” he said.
“I had concerns. I expressed them at the committee,” Gregg added. “I’m certainly not going to be dogmatic on this. We need a stimulus package. This economy is in a very bad way, and a good stimulus package is needed.”
He said Obama also spoke about the problems of bad assets on the books of major banks and housing woes. Obama also addressed long-term fiscal problems, citing the bipartisan task force proposed by Gregg and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Budget Committee. The task force would address the long-term fiscal problems for federal entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
During the Appropriations Committee meeting, Gregg had called real estate the economy’s “core problem.”
“The problem is real estate. The problem is people losing their homes,” he said.
“The problem is foreclosure. The problem is the inability of the real estate market to set a value on a home, and the home is the main asset of most Americans,” Gregg said during the committee meeting.
After the meeting with Obama, Gregg said it sounded as if the stabilization of real estate prices would be handled in a separate package, part of what Obama described as a three-legged stool, with the first leg being the stimulus package, which includes roughly $550 billion in spending and $275 billion in tax cuts.
“That would be very constructive,” Gregg said.
After his first visit back to the Capitol building as President, Obama chose to meet with House and Senate Republican leaders.
“I don’t expect 100 percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people’s business right now,” Obama said between the two meetings.
The House is expected to vote on the stimulus package today, and congressional leaders say they want to have a bill on the President’s desk by mid-February.
Jillian Jorgensen is an intern with the Boston University Washington News Service.