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Obama sells stimulus plan to public, media

US President Barack Obama held a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana, to push his 800 billion dollar stimulus plan, currently under review in the Senate. He will then have his first press conference since moving into the White House.

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AFP - President Barack Obama Monday aims to turn up the heat on Republican foes of his huge stimulus plan, with his first White House press conference and a trip to unemployment-blighted Indiana.

With the 800 billion dollar package hours from a key test in the Senate, Obama flew across frozen prairies to the city of Elkhart, where unemployment rocketed from 4.4 percent to 15.3 percent in a single year.

In a town hall meeting in a local school, the president was set to highlight his plan, designed to create more than three million jobs and make yet another call for urgent Congressional action.

His campaign-style blitz was a bid to drive the package through Congress by a self-imposed deadline of the end of this week, and key test of leverage after Republicans hijacked the stimulus debate.

It will also allow him to take his case for the plan directly to American voters who gave him a mandate for change last November, after spending the first three weeks of his presidency largely lobbying lawmakers in Washington.

Obama's political advisor David Axelrod attempted to position the president as a spokesman for the troubles of everyday Americans angry at delays in passing the stimulus bill in Washington.

"One thing that we learned over two years ... is that there’s a whole different conversation in Washington than there is out here," Axelrod said aboard Air Force One.

"If I had listened to the conversation in Washington during the campaign for president, I would have jumped off a building about a year and a half ago.

"The American people are desperate for us to act.

"They’re not into the machinations that folks in Washington are."

Obama was expected to highlight the painful job losses in Elkhart and also point to a sheaf of infrastructure projects included in the stimulus bill which he says will create or safeguard more than three million jobs nationwide.

After his prime-time press conference in the East Room of the White House at 8:00 pm (0100 GMT), the president will make another barnstorming trip on Tuesday, to a hard-hit corner of Florida.

On Saturday, the president welcomed signs of a tentative deal by senators on the stimulus plan, following news that the US economy shed a staggering 598,000 jobs in January.

"If we don't move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe," Obama said.

The Democratic-led Senate was Monday expected to decide on a key procedural motion to override Republican blocking tactics and put the package to a full vote, possibly Tuesday.

The Democrats control 58 votes in the Senate and need 60 to break through  Republican "filibuster" obstruction tactics.

They appear to have the support of at least three Republican moderates -- Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter.

Whatever bill emerges from the Senate will have to be reconciled with an 820-billion-dollar version passed already by the Democratic-led House of Representatives, which devoted more to infrastructure and less to tax cuts.

Despite the outlines of a compromise brokered with the help of the centrist Republicans, senior opposition senators were adamant that Obama's mix of infrastructure spending and tax cuts would prove a massive waste of money.

"We are going down a road to financial disaster. We'll pay dearly," Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate's banking committee, told CNN Sunday.

"Until we straighten out our banking system ... this economy is going to continue to tank," the Alabama senator added.

Administration officials said Sunday that just such a program to revive the stricken banking industry and housing market would be presented Tuesday by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

National Economic Council director Larry Summers said 350 billion dollars remaining from the so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) would prise open credit markets and include at least 50 billion dollars for housing.

Summers said the two versions of the stimulus package overlapped by "90 percent," and senior Democratic Senator Charles Schumer predicted Congress would meet Obama's deadline of February 16 to have a bill ready for signature.
 

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