Bailout Plan Delayed as Stimulus Pitch Absorbs Agenda
Monday, February 9, 2009
Senior Obama administration officials sought to intensify pressure on Congress yesterday to pass a massive stimulus package for the crumbling economy, warning lawmakers of the consequences of delay while rescheduling the unveiling of their financial rescue plan to keep the spotlight on Capitol Hill.
The White House asked Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to focus today on winning congressional support for the stimulus bill instead of detailing a highly anticipated initiative to aid financial firms, consumer credit markets and struggling homeowners. That rescue plan announcement was moved to tomorrow.
The Senate will hold a key procedural vote today on the stimulus package to determine whether a compromise struck this weekend, which removed about $100 billion in spending from the bill, will persuade enough Republicans to support the measure.
Even if senators approve the bill, which carries an $827 billion price tag, they face the daunting task of negotiating a final bill with the House, which passed its own version last week with far more spending proposals and fewer tax cuts. Democratic aides warned yesterday that it could be difficult to get the stimulus to the president's desk by Congress's self-imposed deadline of Friday.
President Obama plans to fly today to Elkhart, Ind., where the unemployment rate has soared to 15.3 percent -- about twice the national average -- before holding a prime-time news conference to urge congressional leaders to quickly reconcile the two versions of the bill.
The administration's top economic officials said yesterday that, as negotiations on the stimulus bill progress, Obama is interested in restoring support for education and for cash-strapped state and local governments -- measures that were stripped out in the Senate version of the plan.
To persuade enough moderate Republicans to vote for the measure, leaders also added tax credits for home and auto purchases, and provided relief from the alternative minimum tax.
Still, the administration downplayed differences between the House and Senate measures, saying it was critical that Congress act swiftly.
"The most important thing is to get this done for the sake of an economy that lost 600,000 jobs in one month," Lawrence H. Summers, director of the National Economic Council, said yesterday on ABC's "This Week."
The plan has come under intense criticism from many Republicans, who have called it unfocused and wasteful. They also have complained that they have been locked out of the bill-writing process, despite Obama's public efforts to reach out to Republicans.
"I know we're in trouble. I know America needs a stimulus. We need tax cuts. We need to spend money on infrastructure and on other programs that will immediately put people to work. But this is not it," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"You need to get it right. You don't want to spend these precious taxpayer dollars in the wrong way," Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press."