World News

Obama talks economy, stimulus with Harper, congressional leaders

26 January 2009 at 04:26 | 906 views

Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a phone call from Washington Friday and congratulated the new U.S. president, but it didn’t take long for the two leaders to get down to shared economic and auto-industry problems.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Harper and Barack Obama also discussed the president’s upcoming trip to Canada, energy, environment and the war in Afghanistan.

Canada is the largest supplier of energy to the United States.

The Harper government is hoping to co-ordinate its environmental policies with those of the U.S. administration.

Also Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon spoke by phone with his new U.S. counterpart, Hillary Clinton.

In Washington on Friday, Obama and congressional Democrats sought to ease Republican complaints about a massive economic stimulus plan, meeting with party leaders in the White House and promising to consider some of their recommendations.

Many Republican legislators say the $825 billion US package is too costly, and that too much of the spending is for long-range projects that will not stimulate the economy quickly. Some economists say the package should be even bigger, however, and it was unclear whether Republicans would have much impact.

Speaking briefly before the meeting started, Obama urged bipartisan support for the package, adding that he wanted to hear the Republicans’ concerns.

"I know that it is a heavy lift to do something as substantial as we’re doing right now," Obama said. "I recognize that there are still some differences around the table and between the administration and members of Congress about particular details on the plan.

"But I think what unifies this group is a recognition that we are experiencing an unprecedented, perhaps, economic crisis that has to be dealt with, and dealt with rapidly."

He thanked congressional leaders for working quickly to approve the rescue package, which he says will create three million to four million new jobs.

"That is going to be absolutely critical, and it appears that we are on target to make our President’s Day weekend [deadline to pass the bill]," he said. President’s Day falls on Feb. 16.

Obama also said that any legislation governing the use of an additional $350 billion US in financial industry bailout money must include new measures to ensure accountability and transparency.

After the meeting, House Republican Leader John Boehner said he and his colleagues told Obama they feel the stimulus package is too expensive and too slow. He said Republicans told Obama of their own plans to "get fast-acting tax relief in the hands of American families and small businesses, because, at the end of the day, government can’t solve this problem."

Republicans have been seeking deeper tax cuts and have said there was no reliable estimate of the bill’s impact on employment.

Photo: Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to U.S. President
Barack Obama from his Parliament Hill office in Ottawa on Friday.