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Obama Douses A Congressional Brush Fire

Hill Republicans have spent the last few days dwelling on a CBO report showing that less than 40 percent of the $350 billion worth of spending projects in the House stimulus bill would take effect in the next two years. (The overall bill includes other items like tax cuts and aid to states and runs about $825 billion.) I heard two or three GOP senators raise the issue at Tim Geithner's confirmation hearing, and several of the usual suspects held a press conference yesterday to hammer the point home. It's the kind of critique that, if unrebutted, could become an effective rallying cry.

Which is why it's heartening to see the White House respond so nimbly. I had a conversation a little while ago with Sen. Kent Conrad, one of the Democrats concerned about the CBO report. Conrad told me he spent yesterday having conversations with four top White House aides--Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, and Pete Rouse--who assured him that at least 75 percent of the overall bill (that is, infrastructure projects, tax cuts, aid to states--everything) would hit the economy in the first 18 months. Conrad seemed pretty satisfied with this; I suspect it'll defuse the GOP assault, too.

Update: Just to clarify: The White House wasn't saying the CBO report was wrong, just that Obama wouldn't sign a bill that didn't deliver at least 75 percent of its punch in the first 18 months. (That may, in fact, be true of the current House bill, since the White House is referring to the overall $825 billion bill and the CBO report only refers to the $350 billion to be spent on "appropriated" projects. In which case the benefit of this assurance is basically rhetorical.)

--Noam Scheiber