- Jul 13, 2006
By Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama, fresh off a few days boldly reversing some of the Bush era's most contentious policies, will spend the week ahead trying to convince Capitol Hill lawmakers to swiftly pass his US$820 billion economic stimulus package.
Obama spent the weekend hunkering down with his economic team, using his weekly radio and Internet address to stress the importance of the financial rescue plan he's hoping will stop the American economy from plunging into a depression.
The stimulus package begins to work its way through Congress this week.
"We begin this year and this administration in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented action," Obama said in the weekend address, his first as president.
"If we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse."
Winning broad support for the package in the weeks ahead, however, could prove more daunting for Obama than his actions during his first few days in the Oval Office.
With just the stroke of a pen, the president was able to order the closure of Guantanamo Bay, end torture and overturn a Bush administration ban on funding to international organizations that provide abortion counselling.
But in the weeks ahead, Obama has to win over Republicans and some fiscally conservative Democrats who don't like the economic recovery package.
House Republicans say they won't support it because it's too reliant on government spending and doesn't provide enough tax relief for families and small businesses.
They also charge that the plan contains too much "pork-barrel" spending - cash infusions earmarked for some curious causes.
"The $800-billion plan largely ignores the fact that we cannot keep borrowing and spending our way back to prosperity," said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington state Republican.
"Instead of letting American families keep more of their hard-earned tax dollars, this plan proposes to spend additional money - billions - on such programs as new government cars, global warming studies and a billion extra dollars for the U.S. Census."
Kent Conrad, the Democratic chairman of the Senate's budget committee, also has problems with some elements of the economic recovery plan.
"The question is are we doing enough to help the financial sector and are we doing enough about housing? Because if we don't get those things right, we won't get the kind of lift that we need," Conrad said Sunday.
Those types of concerns have persisted despite the White House outlining new tax relief proposals over the weekend aimed at appeasing cranky Republicans who have complained they weren't consulted while Democrats formulated the package.
Even John McCain, a moderate Republican who's been acting as an adviser to Obama on some key cabinet appointments, said Sunday he can't support the recovery plan without even further alterations.
"We've got to stimulate the economy and jobs. We're losing sight of what the stimulus is all about, and that is job creation," said McCain, who describes himself as part of the "loyal opposition" eager to work with Obama in a new era of bipartisanship.
"If it doesn't create jobs, then it's just another spending project."
Democratic House leaders, on the other hand, say the package will pass by mid-February. Obama hopes to have it on his desk to sign into law on Feb. 16, President's Day in the United States.
In the meantime, Obama will continue to try to rally support for the package, visiting Capitol Hill on Tuesday to court top Republicans.
On Sunday, he dispatched one of his top economic advisers, Larry Summers, to take to the airwaves and reassure Americans that the country can afford to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to jump-start the economy.
"The next few months are, no question, going to be very, very difficult and it may be longer than that," Summers said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"The priority is to get credit flowing again. It's going to emphasize transparency, it's going to emphasize accountability."
The government must spend money now, he added, to revive an economy that lost more than two million jobs last year. Obama hopes the package will create up to four million jobs over the next two years.
White House officials and top Democrats appeared to be trying to lower expectations on Sunday of a quick fix, saying the economy will get worse before it improves.
"There's been no good news and there's no good news on the immediate horizon," Vice President Joe Biden said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"The only good news is the president acted swiftly."
Congress has given Obama permission to spend the second US$350 billion of a Wall Street bailout package initially approved last fall.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said Sunday she's open to additional government rescue money for banks and financial institutions, but said taxpayers have to get an ownership stake in return.
Not sure if anything has been posted about this.
I don't know, I'm really not surprised...