WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday amped up the pressure for speedy passage of a giant economic-stimulus package, with President Barack Obama dialing three Republican governors to thank them for backing the measure.
But even as Obama spoke with Florida's Charlies Crist, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut, Republican senators, including Florida's Mel Martinez, rolled out an alternative plan that narrows spending and focuses on tax breaks.
Crist was one of 19 governors — four Republicans and 15 Democrats — to sign a letter urging passage of Obama's stimulus package. The president called the governor over the lunch hour to thank him.
''He wanted help with the stimulus package,'' Crist said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
Crist, who has lobbied the Florida delegation on the issue, said he would do all he could to see that the state gets its fair share.
''I'm happy to help,'' Crist added.
The phone call was the first from the new president for Crist, though the governor said he had spent time talking to the Obamas at last Saturday's Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington.
The calls to the governors came as the Senate began debate on its version of the stimulus package and as the administration sought to rally support for quick passage. The proposal cleared the House last week with zero Republican support, but the administration is hoping to pick up some GOP backing in the Senate.
To make its case, the administration dispatched White House economic chief Larry Summers for a briefing with regional reporters from across the country, releasing the administration's estimates for job creation, state-by-state, including as many as 218,000 jobs in Florida.
Summers called the package ''urgent and critical'' to restore the country's faltering economy.
Crist has said repeatedly that the stimulus package could prove a deciding factor to alleviate some of the state's budget woes by offsetting deeper cuts to education, healthcare and public safety.
The package, the governors said in their letter, "represents a sound investment in our long-term economic interests.''
Martinez said he also talked to Obama by telephone Friday when the president called him to thank him for voting for a bill to expand a children's health-insurance program.
Martinez said Obama expressed interest in seeing the details of the alternative stimulus bill he's working on.
Some Republican senators oppose the scope of the stimulus bill. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who joined Martinez at a news conference Tuesday, called the Democratic bill "not a stimulus package. . . . It's a spending package.''
The GOP bill, which is about half the cost of the Democratic bill, calls for military and veterans spending, along with money for transportation projects and a $15,000 tax credit for home buyers, but eliminates most of the spending on education that is called for in Obama's version.
''Education is viewed by many [senators] as a state issue, not a federal funding issue,'' Martinez said. "We couldn't get to consensus on that.''