Pelosi Wants Stimulus Package Passed by Mid-February

January 7, 2009 - 11:27 AM
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Washington (AP) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed top House Democrats on Wednesday to pass massive economic recovery legislation by mid-February, warning that inaction would lead to more job losses and economic pain.
 
Pelosi emphasized the infrastructure and energy components of a massive stimulus package that Congress and President-elect Barack Obama are fashioning in response to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The combined spending and tax cuts of the plan are expected to cost nearly $800 billion.
 
"While we are not discussing small sums, focusing on the price tag alone ignores the cost of inaction and the real payoff in terms of job creation and increased revenues to our treasury," Pelosi told the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, according to a prepared text of her remarks.
 
Noting that the proposal will include spending on roads and bridges, clean energy technologies, expanded Internet access, and modernizing schools, she declared: "This is not your grandfather's public works bill."
 
Pelosi's call for passage by mid-February represents a slight adjustment in the Democrats' anticipated schedule for the legislation. Just on Monday, Obama had said he hoped for passage at the end of January or the first week in February.
 
Pelosi's exhortation came as President-elect Barack Obama was offering a promise of long-term fiscal discipline as a salve to the huge two-year expenditure in the planned recovery plan. Budget-conscious lawmakers are pressing Obama to embrace deficit-reduction goals -- a task made all the more stark Wednesday amid reports that the Congressional Budget Office would predict an unprecedented deficit of $1.2 trillion for the 2009 budget year.
 
"Part of the discussion that needs to happen right now is not what we do just right now, but what we look to in the future -- about how we get back to a balanced budget and then start to deal with this horrible, horrible national debt that we have," said Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas, a member of the congressional Blue Dogs, a coalition of conservative and moderate Democrats.
 
Two weeks away from assuming the presidency, Obama vowed Tuesday to "bring a long-overdue sense of responsibility and accountability to Washington" and called the need for budget reform "an absolute necessity."
 
On Wednesday, he was expected to announce Nancy Killefer as his chief performance officer, a White House official who will work with federal agencies to set performance standards and hold agency managers accountable for progress. Killefer is director of a management consulting firm and served as an assistant secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton.
 
"The fact that he is making these comments publicly about fiscal responsibility gives me encouragement that we will see something," said Rep. Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, one of the leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition.
 
With Democrats in control of both chambers in Congress, Obama's reassurances to budget hawks from both parties already appear to be making a stimulus package more palatable. Obama said this week he would like Congress to complete action on an economic recovery plan by the end of the month or the first week of February.
 
But Obama himself is warning that the nation could face trillion-dollar deficits for years to come. Eight years ago, the federal budget ran a surplus; the deficit on Sept. 30 was about $455 billion. That was before the government began spending nearly half of a $700 billion bailout fund for the financial sector.
 
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., agreed that trillion-dollar deficits are likely for a few years and must be tolerated as the government pumps money into the badly weakened economy. But the nation must confront long-term problems facing Social Security and Medicare, he said, which will be "very, very tough."
 
"It would send a very healthy message to the markets and the American people if President-elect Obama were to simultaneously announce an economic recovery package and the beginning of a bipartisan process to deal with our long-term imbalances," Conrad said.
 
Obama has not detailed solutions for vexing problems such as growing demands on Social Security and Medicare. His prescriptions to make government accountable could easily run aground, much like those of predecessors who vowed to tackle government waste, fraud and abuse.
 
But lawmakers are not short on ideas. Conrad and the Budget Committee's top Republican, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, have proposed a bipartisan fiscal task force of lawmakers and administration officials that would create a plan to reduce budget deficits and lower the national debt.
 
Blue Dog Democrats would like to see legislation that would force Congress to pay for spending proposals with equal spending cuts or with new revenue. House Democrats this week plan to consider legislation that would require all federal agencies to undergo new audits and would call for congressional hearings when agency inspectors general find evidence of waste or fraud.