Obama Coming To Conference?

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Up to now, President Obama’s staff has mostly dodged questions about what role the White House will play in the conference committee negotiations between the House and the Senate over the stimulus bill.  On the flight out to Elkhart, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked if the White House wants a person in the room during the negotiations. “We want a package to get done quickly and to the President’s desk,” he answered.

But during his town hall meeting here in Indiana, Obama himself tipped his hand on one area that he wants to press conferees to reinsert in the final bill. “The Senate version cut a lot of these education dollars,” Obama said, adding that he wanted to see that money returned to the final bill. [UPDATE: Here is the full Obama quote: “The Senate version cut a lot of these education dollars; I would like to see some of it restored. And over the next few days, as we’re having these conversations, we should talk about how we can make sure that we’re investing in education, because that’s what’s going to keep companies investing right here in the United States over the long term.”]

At the same town hall, Obama offered one of his strongest defenses of using the stimulus package to acheive specific policy goals, something that has been criticized by Republican lawmakers.

Now, I’ll be honest with you. Some of the critics of the plan have said that’s pork. I don’t understand their criticism. Their basic argument is, well, that’s — you’re trying to make policy instead of just doing short-term stimulus. Well, my whole attitude is, if we’re going to spend billions of dollars to create jobs anyway, then why wouldn’t we want to create jobs in things like clean energy that create a better economic future for us over the long term? That’s just — that’s common sense to me.

The context for Obama’s continued assertiveness–which began last Tuesday–is a new Gallup poll, released today, that clearly shows, as Gallup puts it, that “Obama has upper hand in stimulus fight.” While 67 percent of Americans approve of the way he has handled the stimulus, only 31 percent approve of the way congressional Republicans have handled it.