WASHINGTON Senator John McCain said on Friday that President Barack Obama should include Republicans in his plans sooner if he really wants their support after the bitter debate over the $787 billion economic stimulus bill.
McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential election to Obama, and other Republicans complained they had been left out of negotiations on the legislation by Democrats who hold majorities in both houses of Congress.
McCain said the bill was filled with non-emergency spending paid for with borrowed money that future generations will have to pay back.
"I think that the majority of people understand that this was generational theft," McCain told Reuters.
The Arizona senator said many other issues coming up will require a bipartisan effort that he said has been lacking so far from Obama and the Democrats.
"I hope they've learned a lesson," he said. "I hope that they will reverse course, and sit down, negotiate from the beginning, so you're in on the takeoff, so you can be in on the landing."
McCain met Obama two weeks after the November 4 election and agreed that "Americans of all parties want and need their leaders to come together and change the bad habits of Washington" to solve urgent challenges.
Obama initially hoped for an overwhelming majority for passage of the stimulus bill, but the debate quickly dissolved into the traditional argument in which Democrats backed a package more weighted to spending programs and Republicans advocated tax cuts.
Acknowledging scaled-down ambitions for the vote, Obama on Thursday said "I hope they act in a bipartisan fashion, but no matter how they act," the legislation should help the economy.
The stimulus bill ultimately passed the House of Representatives with no Republican support. It was expected to garner the votes of three Republican moderates in the Senate.
"No one could view this as having a scintilla of bipartisanship," said McCain, who has often annoyed his own Republican colleagues by working with the opposition party.
"The message of the election was, sit down and work together. They obviously are not doing that," he said. (Editing by Alan Elsner)