Senate Republicans Differ On Obama's Stimulus

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The Senate this week debates President Barack Obama's economic stimulus bill. Republicans want unnecessary spending taken out of the bill — while adding housing and tax cuts.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Joining us now for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Not one House Republican voted for the stimulus bill last week. So, is it headed for the same fate in the Senate?

ROBERTS: Well, there's been a lot of discussion about that bill as you well know, and a lot of finger pointing saying the Democrats in the House wrote a Democratic bill that was not really - even though the president went up and talked to Republicans, that it didn't have that much Republican input. So the pressure's on in the Senate to see if they can do the same thing or try to make it more bipartisan. And as you know, they will talk and keep talking. But there's also pressure from the outside. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has got radio ads up against some of the Republicans in swing districts who voted against the stimulus package. And there's some pressure from the left, from groups like moveon.org, to try to keep Senate Democrats from caving, as they would put it, to Republicans. They don't want them to compromise too much to get Republican votes.

The person who seems completely serene about this is President Obama, who, in an interview last night before the Super Bowl, he talked to NBC's Matt Lauer and said that he's confident that the final product will be bipartisan. And he's being very careful not to land on Republicans. In fact, he, like many Americans, had a Super Bowl party last night, and it was a bipartisan group.

WERTHEIMER: I gather it wasn't all about football, too.

ROBERTS: Although he called the game right, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Oh, he did.

ROBERTS: He did predict that the Steelers would win by a little bit. But he did have a very - it was members of Congress who were there, and some were fans, some were from Pennsylvania, some from Arizona. But he also was clearly doing some business. Fred Upton, a moderate Republican from Michigan was there, and Paul Hodes, the Democrat from New Hampshire. And a part of that, I think, was probably a thank-you present.

He had supported Obama in the all-important New Hampshire primary. But he also sits on the Financial Services Committee and the Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Financial Institutions. And, of course, we not only have this great big stimulus package still hanging in the Congress, but the question of what to do about regulating banks under the Troubled Assets Recovery Program.

WERTHEIMER: Speaking of the Granite State, there are reports that Mr. Obama may pick Republican Senator Judd Gregg as his commerce secretary, which of course would change the balance of power somewhat. Or is there some kind of deal?

ROBERTS: Well, it sounded over the weekend like there is some kind of deal in the mix. Senator Gregg is an interesting choice for commerce secretary. It certainly, it seemed to me, it works for him. New Hampshire, as you well know, has become a much bluer state, and he is the only Republican left in the delegation. And so I think it would be easier for him not to have to run again there. But the governor, who is a Democrat, could appoint, of course, a Democratic senator. But the minority leader, Mitch McConnell said yesterday that he had an assurance from Senator Gregg that if he went into the Cabinet, that it would not change the balance of power in the Senate.

The speculation is that Governor Lynch would name former University of New Hampshire President Bonnie Newman to replace Senator Gregg, and then she would not run for the office. And she is not a Democrat.

WERTHEIMER: And, of course, Mr. Lynch, I believe, is interested in running for that office.

ROBERTS: There you go. That becomes a place holder.

WERTHEIMER: Another Cabinet appointment that looked like a sure thing ran into some trouble. Tom Daschle, Health and Human Services designee, has a large past-due tax bill. What's happening there?

ROBERTS: Well, he accepted the favor of a friend to have a chauffeured limousine at his disposal for the last few years in Washington, which is officially a gift and he has to pay taxes on it. He has now done that, but it has people somewhat worried about the vetting process and not happy. But Tom Daschle is popular in the Senate and likely to be confirmed.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cokie Roberts, thank you.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

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