BY KENNETH R. BAZINET
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON - On just his ninth day in office, President Obama rammed his $819 billion economic rescue plan through the House Wednesday night - and turned his sights to winning Senate approval.
"The plan now moves to the Senate, and I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk," Obama said. "But what we can't do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way."
Obama has hustled to push his massive rescue plan through Congress in hopes of quickly infusing the funds into the cash- and credit-starved economy.
The 244-188 House vote was the biggest victory of his infant administration. But the fact that not a single Republican voted with him was a symbolic rebuke for Obama, who paid GOP skeptics a courtesy call Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
His gesture failed to produce any converts.
Obama hopes to fare better when the Senate takes up its own version of the bill Monday.
GOP insiders said even if Senate Republicans toe the party line as their House colleagues did, many of them will eventually come around once the final version of the bill is crafted by merging House and Senate versions.
With the economy in crisis, Republicans understand they'll be punished at the polls in 2010 if they're seen as obstructionists.
"We expect to hear from the leadership, 'Vote according to what's best for your districts,'" a GOP source told the Daily News. "We expect to be released."
White House officials seemed to agree.
"Let's not stop after the third inning and tell us who won in the ninth," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said before the vote. "It's a long process."
Senate Democrats, however, were queasy over prospects for a repeat in the aftermath of the House vote. Obama, they fear, may face another straight party-line vote, though they have targeted moderate Republicans who may break ranks.
The key to peeling off GOP support may rest with Arizona Sen. John McCain, who so far has said he's voting against.
Earlier, Obama tried to pressure pro-business House Republicans by trotting out 13 business leaders at the White House just hours before the vote.
"They understand that when it comes to rebuilding our economy, we don't have a moment to spare," Obama said.
House Republicans yawned.
"The underlying bill, while it certainly has some good provisions, has a lot of wasteful spending, a lot of slow-moving government spending in it," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). "We want to work with the President. ... The question is, how do we do it best?"
Boehner had a chance to talk about just that with Obama, who hosted a cocktail party last night for lawmakers from both parties.