US President Barack Obama's massive economic stimulus package is being debated in the US Senate Monday. The House of Representatives passed the bill last week, but with no Republican backing.
AFP - President Barack Obama's huge stimulus package faced a Republican blockade in Congress Monday as opposition senators clamor for a fundamental rethink to his plans for economic revival.
The Senate was poised to debate the 819-billion-dollar bill after the House of Representatives last week passed the legislation without a single Republican vote in support.
"I think we're going to be in for a tough several months. We've got to get this economic recovery plan passed. We've got to start putting people back to work," Obama told US television Sunday.
"I've done extraordinary outreach, I think, to Republicans because they have some good ideas, and I want to make sure that those ideas are incorporated."
Obama scheduled a new round of talks with congressional leaders Monday evening at the White House.
The president was stepping up his lobbying after Friday's release of dire figures showing the US economy shrank by nearly four percent in the last quarter of 2008, its sharpest decline since 1982.
Obama told NBC that the severity of the situation required lawmakers to set aside "politics as usual" and work together on a bailout.
"Democracy is always a somewhat messy process. But the thing I want all of them to remember and the thing I'm thinking about every single day is the thousands of people who are being laid off of their jobs right now. They can't afford politics as usual.
"Old habits are hard to break. But now is the time to break them because we've got an urgent situation," Obama said.
Despite the president's appeals, Republican leaders in the 100-member Senate said they would use parliamentary tactics to stall the stimulus without a root-and-branch review of its mix of tax cuts and spending.
"In the Senate, it routinely takes 60 votes to do almost everything. It doesn't necessarily mean you're trying to slow a bill down," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on CBS program "Face the Nation."
"But a super-majority is required for virtually everything in the Senate, and certainly for something that is close to a one trillion dollar spending bill, it will," he said.
To overcome a Republican "filibuster," the Democrats would need to amass 60 votes to shut down debate and bring the bill to a vote. Obama's party can now count on 58 votes to the Republicans' 41, with one seat still unresolved.
Jon Kyl, the Republicans' second-ranking senator, called for Obama and his Senate allies to "start from scratch" on the stimulus bill.
"I think the more people around the country see of it, the angrier they get, because it's very wasteful," the Arizonan said on "Fox News Sunday," warning that support in the Senate was "eroding."
A key Republican demand is to refocus the stimulus package away from a spending spree on infrastructure and social safety nets, and towards attacking the root cause of the financial crisis: the US property market slump.
The Republicans will introduce a plan to enable homeowners to refinance their mortgages at a low interest rate of about four percent, Senator John Ensign said on CNN.
"If you combine that with properly targeted tax cuts, we can really get this economy going instead of doing a massive spending bill that just fulfills the last 10 years of Democrat priorities," the Nevada Republican said.
Obama said Saturday that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner would soon announce measures to free up credit for businesses and homeowners -- but has stressed that such measures will come in a separate bailout for the banking industry.
Democratic senators, while reinforcing the message that speed is of the essence, said they were open to Republican ideas.
But New York Senator Charles Schumer said on CBS: "I'd rather have a really good bill that helps our economy get out of this mess, with 65 votes, than dilute the bill and get 80 votes."
Opposition threats of a filibuster risk being undermined by Obama's expected nomination Monday of Republican Senator Judd Gregg to serve as his commerce secretary.
But McConnell, without going into details, said he had assurances that whoever replaces Gregg would vote with the Republicans and so leave the Senate's balance of power unchanged.
Date created : 2009-02-02