President Seeks Grass-Roots Support for Stimulus

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama faces a barrage of questions on his plans to reinvigorate the economy with a massive stimulus bill and additional billions in bailout money for the financial markets.

Trips Monday and Tuesday to cities hurting under the economic meltdown and a prime-time news conference Monday night show that Obama and his advisers are worried about a looming Senate vote on the stimulus bill, which failed to gather meaningful Republican support during rare weekend debate. The question-and-answer sessions with citizens and later with news reporters will allow Obama to appeal directly for grass-roots backing of his plans.

Both trips were added to Obama's schedule as difficulties with the legislation on Capitol Hill increased. Originally, aides had insisted his time would be better spent in Washington to shepherd the bill rather than traveling the more traditional presidential route around the country, pressuring lawmakers from his bully pulpit.

The $827 billion Senate version of the plan was expected to pass the Senate on Tuesday. However, it must be reconciled with the House version, which totaled $820 billion in spending and tax cuts. With Senate and House negotiators preparing to deal, Obama is likely to push for a bill on his desk for his signature by mid-month.

To focus on the stimulus bill, the Obama administration postponed to Tuesday the unveiling of the second part of the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry. Instead, Obama focused on campaigning for the stimulus bill with his trips to areas hit hard by the economic crisis.

Two key players in crafting the version now before the Senate - Maine Republican Susan Collins and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson - said Monday morning they believe this is the best that can be achieved in the current circumstances.

"This bill is not perfect," Collins acknowledged in a nationally broadcast interview. "We're not claiming that. But in fact I think this bill will help to create 3.5 million jobs. ... We're facing a crisis and it makes no sense to have a partisan divide."

She said the measure on balance is "a good bill. It is needed and I think it will make a difference."

Appearing with Collins on NBC's "Today" show, Nelson said, "I think the things we have focused on will help turn this economy around."

The House and Senate bills overlap in many ways, but the Senate bill has a greater emphasis on tax cuts, while the House bill devotes more money to states, local governments and schools. The differences are likely to mean difficult negotiations when House and Senate conferees meet later in the week to try to reconcile the two measures.

The Senate stripped $108 billion in spending, including $40 billion in aid to state governments for education and other programs. The bill retained items that also probably won't do much for the economy, such as spending $1 billion to fix problems with the 2010 Census.

Still, the bill retained the core of Obama's plan to combine hundreds of billions of dollars in spending to boost consumption by the public sector with tax cuts designed to increase consumer spending. Much of the new spending would be for victims of the recession, in the form of extending unemployment insurance through the end of the year and increasing benefits by $25 a week, free or subsidized health care, and increased food stamp payments.

"The president's top man on the economy is the president," Larry Summers, the chairman of the White House National Economic Council, said on "Fox News Sunday." Summers added: "He listens to advice from all of us, and he sets his direction."

For his first direct pitch to citizens, Obama scheduled a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind. He was to return to Washington for the news conference Monday night. On Tuesday he plans to visit Fort Myers, Fla., an area hit hard by foreclosures.

"Americans across this country are struggling, and they are watching to see if we're equal to the task before us. Let's show them that we are. And let's do whatever it takes to keep the promise of America alive in our time," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

The Elkhart-Goshen region in northern Indiana saw its unemployment rate soar to 15.3 percent in December, up a whopping 10.6 percentage points from December 2007. The region has been bruised by layoffs in the recreational vehicle industry. Hundreds of workers have lost their jobs at RV makers such as Monaco Coach Corp., Keystone RV Co. and Pilgrim International.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the meeting would give the president a chance to hear Americans' concerns about the bill, which was set to have a key vote in the Senate on Monday afternoon.

"I think this is another chance for the president to talk directly to the American people about what he thinks is at stake," Gibbs said. "Watching millions lose their jobs, and having in front of Congress - and hopefully in front of him soon - a plan to save or create millions more jobs and get people back to work, putting money in people's pockets, getting help for state and local governments so they don't have to lay off firefighters or teachers or police officers."

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  • by Robin Location: georgia on Feb 11, 2009 at 08:15 AM
    Thank You Amen Robin. I remember the bailout plan from Bush and now my super jet is going down fast,but i ask. Why make me and alot of other people crash head first? I'm a very caring person, so Belinda until you have walked a DAY in my shoes dont put uncaring on the same page that my name is on. Theres my Attitude! God Bless.
  • by Ann Location: Tallahassee on Feb 10, 2009 at 09:40 AM
    Exactly why are the elected officers of this country discussing how they place health care reform in a stimulus bill. How wrong of you. You should be ashamed of yourself. Especcially as the bill is so bad for the ill or the elderly. People should look at this.
  • by amen robin... on Feb 10, 2009 at 08:47 AM
    the president has no more power than the queen of england now days. and sadly enough, nothing will be done as long as there is a congress full of crooks. there are too many with their own agendas to care what happens to the rest of us. Obama may have some very practical ideas, but just like every other president in the recent history..I don't know that we'll ever see them. and yes.. it's nothing about color or party. it's just the same ol' same old.. I do feel a little need in saying "I told you so" to all the masses who really thought there would be change.. I actually did listen in history class, and OMG..I've lived thru 10 presidents now.
  • by John on Feb 10, 2009 at 08:04 AM
    Bush and O'Bama have placed a lot of debt on us our children and thiers. This will have to be paid back in taxes, fees and other disguised taxes. Work may be created but not jobs. When a project is over so are the jobs associated with it. Big corporations will get the bulk of the projects and hire temporary help. Then factor in all the immagrants coming in both legal and illegal about 1.5 to 2 million and the job count amounts to nothing. Both these bail-out pork spending bills are just costing us taxes and closer to being bankrupt. Leave things alone and the economy will work its self out. Some companies may go under but others will take thier place. Unions outprice thier labor, then face the outcome. Bail-out is bad bad bad. Get ready for the next phase, taxes taxes taxes. Even in his speach last night O'Bama had no real idea of how this is going to work and playing the blame game like he will for 4 years.
  • by Belinda Location: Florida on Feb 10, 2009 at 07:19 AM
    I notice that everybody is talking about what the stimulus plan will do for the economy. It will do absolutely nothing if everybody has the same attitude as some of the people responding to this article. How many are you have forgotten that the federal authorized $700 billion dollars (TARP) while George Bush was in the White House and all the executive did was party and buy expensive planes, houses and vacation. Why is it so different for Obama to ask for help to get the 5.3 million people out of work back to work. The major problem the US is facing is the attitude: "I GOT MINE NOW YOU GET YOURS." In case some people do not realize it yet, the company is going down hill at a pace faster than a super jet. I did not realize that the people of this country could be not uncaring about their fellow Americans. Just remember this one thing: You may have your good times now, but one day you will be where the other people are. Just like you made it up, you will fall down faster. GET HEART!!!
  • by Robin Location: georgia on Feb 10, 2009 at 07:04 AM
    Probably half the people with comments on here wanted him,you voted you got him. Did you really listen in history class? The President has little control over the United States. He promised alot of things he has no say over. Trust me this has nothing to do with color. I could care less if our President was purple,orange or neon green! I only care about whats coming out of his mouth,for the people and the great USA. God Bless Us All!
  • by Anonymous on Feb 9, 2009 at 08:55 PM
    His own party doesn't even support his plan and all he does is blame the republicans. Typical he learned that from Pelosy .
  • by Anonymous on Feb 9, 2009 at 06:10 PM
    I'm sure this plan is just as stupid as the democrate corn fuel energy plan or the other trillion dollar give away Obama and Mccain signed with out reading.
  • by The Real Truth on Feb 9, 2009 at 04:30 PM
    How does $3.1 million for a tennis court in Tulsa, Oklahoma stimulate our national economy? Or $300 million to study global warming? Obama also wants to spend $2 billion to study "bigfoot tracking" in the U.S. Where's the media outrage? I commend Sen. Allen Boyd for voting against the pathetic pork package.
  • by oops on Feb 9, 2009 at 02:33 PM
    unfortunately, his fan base that elected him, aren't smart enough to dial the phone to their congressmen and push for anything.. and he was naive enough to think he was the one in charge.. this ain't looking too good yet.. hope they didn't name all them streets and schools too soon..
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