GOP Leaders Doubt Stimulus Bill Will Pass Senate

February 2, 2009 - 5:39 AM
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In this photo provided by CBS, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears on CBS's

Washington (AP) - Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday the massive stimulus bill backed by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats could go down to defeat if it's not stripped of unnecessary spending and focused more on housing issues and tax cut.
 
The Senate version of the bill, which topped out at nearly $900 billion, is headed to the floor for debate. The House bill totaled about $819 billion and earned no Republican votes, even though it easily passed the Democratic-controlled House. At some point lawmakers will need to compromise on the competing versions.
 
McConnell and other Republicans suggested that the bill needed an overhaul because it doesn't pump enough into the private sector through tax cuts and allows Democrats to go on a spending spree unlikely to jolt the economy. The Republican leader also complained that Democrats had not been as bipartisan in writing the bill as Obama had said he wanted.
 
"I think it may be time ... for the president to kind of get a hold of these Democrats in the Senate and the House, who have rather significant majorities, and shake them a little bit and say, 'Look, let's do this the right way,'" McConnell said. "I can't believe that the president isn't embarrassed about the products that have been produced so far."
 
For his part, Obama said he is confident Republicans will come around to support the final version of the legislation. He and Vice President Joe Biden will meet with congressional leaders at the White House on Monday afternoon.
 
The president repeated what his top aides and officials have been telling reporters in recent days, that the final package would be close to its objectives -- to save or create 3 to 4 million jobs -- and Republicans would be able to back it.
 
"I am confident that by the time we have the final package on the floor that we are going to see substantial support, and people are going to see this is a serious effort. It has no earmarks. We are going to be trimming out things that are not relevant to putting people back to work right now," Obama said.
 
However, he declined to predict how many Senate Republicans might switch parties. Biden, a former senior member of the Senate before his election, similarly declined to offer predictions last week in an interview despite his personal phone calls for former colleagues.
 
"Look, the important thing is getting the thing passed," Obama told NBC's Matt Lauer during a live pre-Super Bowl interview. "And I've done extraordinary outreach, I think, to Republicans because they have some good ideas and I want to make sure those ideas are incorporated."
 
Obama also that his administration would announce plans to spend the second $350 billion of a bank bailout after Congress deals with the separate economic recovery plan.
 
Under Obama's plan, strained state budgets would receive a cash infusion, projects for roads and other infrastructure would be funded, and "green jobs" in the energy sector would be created. In its centerpiece tax cut, single workers would gain $500 and couples $1,000, even if they don't earn enough to owe federal income taxes.
 
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said he was seeing an erosion of support for the bill and suggested that lawmakers should consider beginning anew.
 
"When I say start from scratch, what I mean is that the basic approach of this bill, we believe, is wrong," Kyl said.
 
Among the major changes Kyl said would be needed to gain Republican support in the Senate was the tax rebate for individuals and couples, which he criticized as going to too many people who didn't pay the tax to start with. He also criticized the bill for seeking to create nearly three dozen government programs and giving states far more money than they need.
 
Sen. Dick Durbin, D.-Ill., argued that $1 out of every $3 in the bill goes to tax cuts and defended it as aimed at helping working families. While he contended that Democrats were "very open" to Republican proposals, he cited only what he said were calls for more money in job-creating public works projects, typically a Democratic priority.
 
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., characterized the proposal as "a spending plan. It's not a stimulus plan. It's temporary, and it's wasteful."
 
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the bill was designed to help people who have been damaged in the economic meltdown as well as stimulate the economy.
 
"I never saw a tax cut fix a bridge. I never saw a tax cut give us more public transportation. The fact is, we need a mix," Frank said.
 
Durbin and Kyl appeared on "Fox News Sunday," DeMint and Frank were on ABC's "This Week," and McConnell was on CBS' "Face the Nation."
 
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Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this report.