Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate were on Friday preparing to submit their final votes on US President Barack Obama's $789 billion economic stimulus plan, aimed at jumpstarting the struggling US economy.
AFP - Spurred on by President Barack Obama, the US Congress set the stage for final votes Friday to approve an unprecedented plan to pump 789 billion dollars into the listless US economy.
The House of Representatives planned to start debate at 9:00 am (1400 GMT) and vote in the afternoon on the package, while the Senate targeted an evening vote on what would be Obama's biggest victory since taking office January 20.
"We make many votes in the Congress. They're all important. This one is historic and transformational. I look forward to its passage," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.
Supporters and opponents of the titanic stimulus package said they expected Obama's Democratic majority to prevail and pass the bill, which the new president forecast will save or create some 3.5 million jobs.
"It is time for Congress to act, and I hope they act in a bipartisan fashion," Obama said in his latest push for his Republican critics to rally behind a measure they overwhelmingly oppose.
"But no matter how they act, when they do, when they finally pass our plan, I believe it will be a major step forward on our path to economic recovery," Obama said during a trip to the hard-hit US heartland.
Passage would enable Obama to sign the bill into law before his self-imposed February 16 deadline.
But the president's victory seemed set to dash his hopes of getting many Republicans to side with him on a key plank of his platform for pulling the US economy out of what many call the worst recession since the 1930s.
And as lawmakers put the finishing touches on the bill, Republican Senator Judd Gregg announced he was withdrawing his nomination to be Obama's commerce secretary, citing "irresolvable conflicts" on issues like the stimulus.
Republicans have charged that the measure, about 35 percent tax cuts and the rest in new government spending, contains too many bloated pet programs and too few tax cuts, the party's traditional cure-all for economic woes.
"This is not the smart approach. The taxpayers of today and tomorrow will be left to clean up the mess," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who pointed to a forecast one-trillion-dollar federal budget deficit.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the Senate vote would stay open, perhaps hours beyond the customary 15 minutes, to enable fellow Democrat Sherrod Brown to return from his mother's memorial service.
Reid's announcement reflected the thorny problems stemming from his need to rally 60 votes to ensure passage, even with three Republicans set to join his reliable bloc of 58 -- now deprived of Democratic icon Ted Kennedy, who was too ill to vote.
As Reid spoke, lawmakers and aides pored over official summaries of the legislation and awaited the actual text, searching for even slight variations in the breakthrough announced Wednesday and for answers to lingering questions.
It was not clear, for instance, in what form a controversial "Buy American" provision had made it into the final bill, though Democratic aides signaled that it remained in the Senate's watered-down form.
Supporters of the bill touted expansions in unemployment benefits, health programs for struggling Americans, and help for cash-strapped states facing cuts in services as critical to easing economic pain.
They also highlighted roughly 150 billion to restore US infrastructure, billions more to develop renewable energy, funds for school constructions and other outlays as investments in future US growth.
Date created : 2009-02-13