WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama said Friday that he and Congress will "hone and refine" his nearly $800 billion economic recovery plan, as he seeks to patch fissures with senior Democrats over key features of the still-emerging plan.
The job was made more urgent with the release of a Labor Department report showing job losses of 524,000 in December and a 7.2 percent unemployment rate, the highest in 16 years.
Obama said he welcomed input from lawmakers in both parties. His plan is getting off to a rocky start, with top Democrats openly slamming key provisions, especially the design of his tax cuts.
"If members of Congress have good ideas, if they can identify a projects for me that will create jobs in an efficient way that does not hamper our ability over the long term to get control of our deficit, that is good for the economy, then I'm going to accept it," the president-elect said.
Democrats such as Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad complained that many of the incoming administration's proposed tax cuts wouldn't work. Republicans warned against excessive new spending, with both parties signaling the incoming president they intend to place their own stamp on the economic recovery effort.
"What we can't do is drag this out when we just saw a half-million jobs lost," Obama said
Conrad also has staked a firm position against using the economic recovery plan for permanent spending increases, opening a split with House Democrats hoping to use the plan to broaden eligibility for unemployment insurance and boost education spending.
"Doing things that would have a permanent effect when we face trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see is just unwise," Conrad said.
A call for a $3,000 tax break for job creation drew particular criticism in a closed-door meeting, and numerous lawmakers said Obama had not ticketed enough of his tax proposal for energy and that more needed to be done to ease the Housing crisis.
But Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Friday that areas of broad agreement and universal sentiment of the need to act far outweigh areas of disagreement.
"Please don't get the idea there was some sort of breakdown here," Boxer told reporters.
Obama's aides and congressional Democrats have been at work for weeks on legislation to create new jobs, help the unemployed, cut taxes and aid cash-strapped states. There also are subsidies to help the newly unemployed afford their health care, a big new effort to improve the energy efficiency of federal buildings, and tax credits for business investment in plants and equipment.
The details are closely held and subject to change — and the cost of various components seems to be bouncing around daily in the push and pull between the Obama transition team and congressional leaders.
Obama's chief political strategist, David Axelrod, and incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, heard plenty of ideas and criticisms during Capitol Hill meetings Thursday.
"There was what one would expect, which is constructive comments," Axelrod told reporters. "I'm not going to characterize it as push-back. I'm going to characterize it as people doing their jobs."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promised lawmakers would cancel next month's planned Presidents' Day recess if necessary.
About $300 billion of Obama's package would be for tax cuts or refunds for individuals and businesses.
One tax provision would provide a $500 tax cut for most workers and $1,000 for couples, at a cost of about $140 billion to $150 billion over two years. The individual tax cuts may be awarded through withholding less from worker paychecks, effectively making checks about $10 to $20 larger each week.
Democrats emerging from a closed-door meeting of the Senate Finance Committee had little positive to say about the tax cut proposals. Conrad was critical of the proposed break for workers and their families.
"Twenty bucks a week. How much of a lift is that going to give?" he said.
Nor did he sound positive about a proposed tax break for businesses to create jobs — a $3,000 tax credit for companies that hire or retrain workers.
"If I'm a business person, it's unlikely if you give me a several thousand dollar credit that I'm going to hire people if I can't sell the products they're producing," Conrad said.