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Vote timeline unclear
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Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) late Thursday extended the debate
on a $920 billion-plus, 736-page stimulus bill until at least today to
give Senators more time to work out a bipartisan plan that would strip
$75 billion to $100 billion from the package.
Reid threatened to hold a Sunday test vote if the measure cannot
be completed today. Reid needs all 58 members of the Democratic
caucus as well as two Republicans to pass the bill. Senate approval
would lead to a House-Senate conference next week, when congressional
leaders would try to work out differences, with the goal of sending
a compromise bill to Obama's desk before Presidents' Day, Feb. 16.
President Barack Obama openly pushed a
package in the $800 billion range in televised remarks
made at the House Democratic retreat in Williamsburg, Va. His advice to
opponents was "Don't come to the table with the same tired arguments
and worn ideas that helped to create this crisis. ... I don't care if
you drive a hybrid or an SUV, if you're driving toward a cliff, you have
to change direction."
The White House announced that Obama on Monday at 8 p.m. ET will
give the first news conference of his presidency -- on prime-time television
-- after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner details a rescue plan for
the financial sector.
Obama warned of an economic “catastrophe” if the
stimulus bill fails. “Millions more Americans will lose
their jobs. Homes will be lost. Families will go without health care.
Our crippling dependence on foreign oil will continue. That is the price
of inaction,” Obama said. In a private session with House Democrats
at their retreat, according to a Roll Call account, Obama told Democrats
he had “inherited a mess” but was committed to tackling
the challenges facing the financial system — even if such work
limited him to a single term. He said he would rather “do the
right thing” than be a mediocre, two-term president.
Growing frustration. Obama, in remarks to House Democrats
gathered at the Kingsmill Resort,expressed frustration with the barrage
of criticism that has bogged down the plan. The plan's opponents say,
"'This is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill,'"
Obama said. "What do think a stimulus is? That's the whole point!
No seriously, that's the point! Now I'm getting carried away."
Moderate Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and
Susan Collins (R-Maine) are leading a group trying to strip measures from
the bill that many lawmakers claim would not help stimulate
the economy, including $300 million to upgrade USDA facilities and $1.4
billion for the National Science Foundation. The group has also begun
to discuss adding more money for infrastructure projects that would create
construction jobs around the country.
Collins said Obama, who met with her privately on Wednesday,
agreed to her effort to reduce the overall cost of the package to $800
billion. "Our original figure was roughly in the 800 range,"
Obama recently stated. "There have been some changes to our framework
both in the House and in the Senate, but that's, I think, the scale
that we need to deliver for the American people."
Collins said that she could not support an unaltered package,
and said she would not risk sending the legislation to a conference
with the House on the promise that negotiators would trim it at that
point. "I think it's important we get a bipartisan compromise here
in the Senate," she said.
A delay in Senate action occurred shortly
after a clash over an amendment expanding Trade Adjustment Assistance.
The federal program offers wage assistance, benefits and
job training to U.S. manufacturing workers who have lost their jobs as
the result of global trade deals. Earlier on Thursday, leaders of the
Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled
the agreement that extends the program to workers in services industries
and the public sector.
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