Congress Readies Final Vote on $790B Stimulus Bill

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's massive, $790 billion economic stimulus plan is on track for a Friday vote in the House, Democratic leaders say, after a 24-hour delay caused by late, lingering controversy.

The Senate could vote on the package of spending and tax cuts later in the day or over the weekend, sending the measure to Obama's desk and awarding him a crucial victory. He says the measure will create or save 3.5 million jobs, while critics contend the bill is filled with wasteful spending and provisions that won't boost the economy.

A day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced agreement had been reached between the White House and congressional negotiators, the measure still had not been revealed in full late Thursday. After a disagreement over school construction funds had been resolved, causing several hours of delay, it took hours for staff aides to read the huge bill line by line to make sure no mistakes were made.

As the overtime drama played out in Washington, Obama delivered what has become a daily call for final congressional action, this time from the industrial heartland, before employees of Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria, Ill.

"Right now, we have a once in a generation chance to act boldly, to turn adversity into opportunity, and use this crisis as a chance to transform our economy for the 21st century," Obama said Thursday. "That is the driving purpose of the recovery and reinvestment plan."

The plan is the signature initiative of the fledgling Obama administration, which is betting that combining tax cuts of just a few dollars a week for most workers with an infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars of government spending over the next few years will arrest the economy's fall.

Larry Summers, a former Clinton administration Treasury secretary and now head of Obama's White House-based economics council, was asked Friday how far the bill will go toward reviving the economy.

"It is the biggest fiscal expansion in our country's history," he replied in an appearance on NBC's "Today" show.

But Summers cautioned against raising expectations too high.

"I think this is a key part of what's gong to be a multipart strategy to contain this decline," he said. But Summers added that the problems "weren't made in a week, a month, a year. It's going to take time to fix."

He said it should not be considered a "silver bullet," or panacea for deeply rooted business woes.

"We don't have a viable alternative," he said. "We're going to have starts and stops."

Much of the spending won't be delivered this year or even next, and Republicans pointed to studies by the Congressional Budget Office that say that adding so much to the national debt would cost the economy by the end of the decade.

The $790 billion plan combines $286 billion in tax cuts with $311 billion in programs funded by the appropriations committees and about $193 billion in spending for benefit programs such as unemployment assistance, $250 payments or millions of people receiving Social Security benefits, and extra money for states to help with the Medicaid health program for the poor and disabled.

Obama's "Making Work Pay" tax cut would be scaled back from $500 for most workers to $400, with couples getting $800 instead of $1,000.

Republicans, lined up to vote against the bill, piled on the scorn. "This is not the smart approach," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. "The taxpayers of today and tomorrow will be left to clean up the mess."

It was clear that the measure was the result of old-fashioned sausage-making. Pet provisions were coming to light that had not been included in the original bills that passed the House or Senate - or that differed markedly from earlier versions. Some appeared to brush up against claims of the bill's supporters that no pet projects known as "earmarks" were included.

One last-minute addition was a $3.2 billion tax break for General Motors Corp. that would allow the ailing auto giant to use current losses to claim refunds for taxes paid when times were good. GM got a $13.4 billion federal bailout late last year - and is expected to receive more in 2009 - and argued that without the provision, its government-financed turnaround plan could force the company to pay higher taxes.

Then there was $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, a priority for both Obama and Reid, who's up for re-election and is a GOP target. While not explicitly named, a Los Angeles to Las Vegas rail project that Reid's been backing for years stands to win funding as does a project in Obama's home state of Illinois.


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