Moderates Seek Bipartisan OK Of Stimulus Package

Senate moderates seeking to pare back Barack Obama's economic plan are rekindling their efforts in hopes of building a bipartisan vote that eluded the president in the House.

A group of nearly 20 moderates from both parties — more Democrats than Republicans — huddled off and on all day Thursday in hopes of cutting as much as $100 billion from Obama's plan, which ballooned to $937 billion on the Senate floor, with further add-ons possible during a long day of votes Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., displayed impatience with the moderates, led by Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., at a midday news conference, but he lent them encouragement as he sent senators home later Thursday.

"It's gotten more encouraging and that's because the leadership has indicated that they have some appreciation for the work that this bipartisan group is doing," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "It's still got life. It's still breathing."

A roster of $88 billion worth of cuts was circulating, almost half of which would come from education grants to states, with an additional $13 billion in aid to local school districts for special education and the No Child Left Behind law on the chopping block as well. Some $870 million to fight the flu was among the first items to go, but other items divided the group.

At the same time, the group also was hoping to add perhaps $25 billion in additional infrastructure projects.

"We've added more tax cuts and tax relief. We've trimmed out some of the fat and now we have to add a little muscle," Landrieu said, referring to additional infrastructure spending.

If the group fails to reach an accord — or if it won't fly with Democratic loyalists — the alternative for Reid is to try to ram the measure through with just a few GOP supporters, such as Olympia Snowe of Maine. He expressed confidence he has the 60 votes needed to press it through if need be.

The massive measure is a key early test for Obama, who has made it the centerpiece of his fledgling presidency. Obama embraced the moderates' efforts, saying he would "love to see additional improvements" in the bill.

Speaking to a House Democratic retreat in Williamsburg, Va., Obama pushed Democrats to avoid political gamesmanship and get a stimulus bill to his desk by next week.

Voters who ousted Republicans from power "didn't vote for the status quo," he said. "They sent us here to bring change. We owe it to them to deliver."

The Collins-Nelson group is hoping to bring the measure's cost down to the $800 billion range, though they were working from the $885 billion measure that came to the floor — ignoring the more than $50 billion in add-ons added over the past three days. A recalculated cost for a popular plan to award a $15,000 homebuyer tax credit pushed the overall price tag to $937 billion.

On the Senate floor, Democrats continued to flex the muscle of their expanded 58-41 majority, easily killing efforts by GOP conservatives to replace the bill with versions containing more tax cuts and less spending.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama's vanquished rival for the White House, said that public opinion was shifting in the GOP's favor as he advanced a $421 billion plan, less than half the White House-backed measure. It lost 57-40.

McCain's plan contained a one-year cut in the payroll tax, which would help all wage-earners, as well as reductions in the two lowest income tax brackets that would benefit only those who earn enough to pay income taxes.

Another proposal, by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., was designed to reduce mortgage rates to as low as 4 percent for millions of homeowners. It was defeated on a vote of 62-35.

Despite their numbers, many Democrats, including newly elected freshmen such as Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Udall of Colorado, want to see less long-term spending and more items directly related to job creation.

And while polls show Obama is popular and the public supports recovery legislation, Republicans have maneuvered in the past several days to identify and ridicule relatively small items in the bill.

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  • by Tad Location: Jamesville on Feb 8, 2009 at 01:43 PM
    It is no use VBush and Buzz. The refluter/floggie is a firm believer in the Soviet/Cuban/North Korean/pre-open market China economic models. To quote her hero Bill Clinton, "this stuff'll work, you just have to get smarter people to run it". Of course, we know socialism, communism and collectivism does not work but the young come of voting age every year with no sense of history and these "feel good" system's failures and give new life to the stupidity and it's die hard supporters. If you will remember there were a lot of young people in the 70's who supported that moron Jimmy Carter, they are now adults in mind as well as body and are conservative for the most part. The current crop of young half-wits will eventually become whole-wits and move to the right as well. They will scratch their graying heads in about twenty years and wonder how the 18 to 25 crowd of 2029 can be so silly and naive.
  • by Buzz Location: Mill Creek on Feb 7, 2009 at 04:36 AM
    I looked for the parts of this bill that would actually "stimulate the economy". None was found, I guess it's all realative to what you consider stimulation. We'll just be paying for a bunch pork - again. I guess that's what most people wanted though. If I want to pay for pork, I want mine with stewed taters, slaw, and a cold pepsi. Buzz-
  • by VBush Location: MHCY on Feb 6, 2009 at 09:11 PM
    Ok Bloggie; you obviously need an education. Cut taxes on the rich. (I never saw a poor man give another man a job) Cliche? Yes, but it is true. When the so called big bad rich corporations have less of a tax burden, they expand, hire, take chances. This is also good for smaller businesses, as they do business with these corporations..ultimately expanding their business and hiring more people. Other businesses start up, more jobs. All these companies need materials to operate, more order of product. Product needs transportation....more jobs, transportation breaks, need to fix it...more jobs See the snowball effect here? Now, while the corporations and the big bad rich guy had their taxes lowered, in the end they actually pay more taxes because they are doing MORE business. More profit, more money invested, more taxes actually paid in the end. It works every time its tried. Unfortunately it hasn't been done right since Reagan.
  • by Honorable Bloggie Location: NC on Feb 6, 2009 at 03:14 PM
    Cut taxes on the rich. Give money to the middle class and poor taxpayers. What difference does it make? It really doesn't. If someone is up for a debate, please step to the plate.
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Feb 6, 2009 at 12:03 PM
    Well, its seems the things that would "stimulate" the economy are not in this bill. It appears to be pork disgised as stimulus. How does paying for abortions in African or the US help "stimulate" our economy? Seems that giving money back to taxpayers or tax breaks "always works". It worked for Reagon, Clinton and Bush but it won't work now, only spending the countries fortune and future will solve this? Exactly what kind of change did you vote for? Sounds like what you will be working for when they finish spending your grandchildrens money. Spending doesn't make jobs, cutting taxes does. Sorry to say, cut the taxes on the rich so they will loose some of their money since the rest of us don't have it.
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Feb 6, 2009 at 04:34 AM
    I think the debate is a good thing and if there is waste, but if this turns into the usual petty bickering we're screwed. The last congress rammed through 300 billion to the banks and now they won't even tell us what they did (if anything) with it. Needs to be a mechanism so we (the people) can see where the money is REALLY going and how it is being spent. We don't need any state-side Haliburtons.
  • by Ted Location: Greenville on Feb 6, 2009 at 03:49 AM
    And what "relatively small items" are being ridiculed? Could it be the one hundred million for honeybee insurance, or the STD research or other items that have no effect on jobs or stimulating the economy? Unless of course you happen to own honeybees with STD's.

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