GOP Senators Seek Changes In Stimulus Plan

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Democrats are congratulating themselves on the process they are using in allowing numerous amendments to the stimulus bill. They may, however, get more changes in than they bargained for. Republicans — and some skeptical Democrats — are trying to move the bill to create jobs in the short term.


The news that two of President Obama's nominees have withdrawn comes on the first full day of debate in the Senate on his economic stimulus plan. President Obama met with Republicans last week, and Democrats last night, on the nearly $900 billion plan to try to rescue the nation's economy. The President is seeking bipartisan support. But, as NPR's David Welna reports, the voting so far is largely along party lines.

DAVID WELNA: As the Senate's debate on the stimulus got under way today, Majority Leader Harry Reid had a sharp reminder for his colleagues. There will be consequences, he warned, if they don't meet a deadline for finishing that bill and reconciling it with the stimulus bill the House passed last week.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Majority Leader): President's Day recess is to begin a week from this Friday. And that recess will not begin unless President Obama has a bill on his desk to sign.

WELNA: Still, Reid said he was placing no limits on the number of amendments Senators might offer to revise the stimulus package. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus promised everyone would get a fair shake in reshaping the massive package of spending and tax cuts.

Senator MAX BAUCUS (Democrat, Montana; Finance Committee Chairman): We have taken extraordinary steps to ensure the Senate is considering this bill with a fair process.

WELNA: That did not seem to convince Arizona Republican, and 2008 Presidential contender, John McCain. He was dismissive of President Obama's trip to the capital last week to meet with Senate Republicans.

Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona): It's one thing to come over and have a nice conversation. Another time is to send your people over to sit down and negotiate and find common ground.

WELNA: Like many other Republicans, McCain called the stimulus package nothing more than a massive spending bill. And Iowa's Chuck Grassley, who is the top Republican on the Finance Committee, seemed genuinely offended that Democrats have repeatedly compared members of his party during this debate to Herbert Hoover, the GOP President from Iowa, who presided over the start of the Great Depression.

Senator Charles Grassley (Republican, Iowa): They seem to be doing it to portray another - to anyone who questions the trillion-dollar package as a reincarnation of those, what we call, Hoover economics. It's an unfair characterization.

WELNA: But that failed to silence California Democrat Barbara Boxer.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): And when I used the phrase Herbert Hoover, which has become kind of a symbol for doing nothing in the face of the middle class crumbling, I know what I'm saying.

WELNA: Boxer was defending an amendment that would have increased spending on infrastructure repair by $50 billion. Washington Democrat Patty Murray, the measure's sponsor, said families across the nation are putting their faith in Congress.

Senator PATTY MURRAY (Democrat, Washington): Today they're watching this debate on the floor and they are expecting us to take bold, swift action to get it started. This amendment that I'm offering is that kind of bold action.

WELNA: But Republicans joined by one Democrat managed to block Murray's amendment. Minority leader Mitch McConnell said later it was time for the Senate to sober up.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): I think most of my members feel that you can get the job done with a lot less than a trillion-dollar spending package. And so, what we're hoping to do is to pare it down and target it right at the problem, rather than have it keep ballooning upward and upward and upward.

WELNA: A GOP amendment removing nearly a quarter billion dollars in funds for Hollywood production companies did pass. Majority Leader Reid promised the stimulus bill will undergo still more changes.

Sen. REID: The President, the Democratic leaders and the Republican leaders, certainly have every intention, moving forward, to getting everything out of the bill that causes heartburn to a significant number of Senators.

WELNA: It's a promise Reid and the Senate have only a few days to make good on.

David Welna, NPR News, the capital.

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