The Senate advanced an $838 billion version of President Obama's stimulus plan Monday, clearing the way for a Tuesday vote in which formal passage is expected.
Despite efforts to forge bipartisan support for the measure, only three Republicans joined Democrats in the 61-36 vote to cut off debate: Susan Collins and Olympic Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Hitting the 60-vote threshold enables Democrats to prevent Republicans from using procedural tactics to filibuster the bill.
Collins had been instrumental in working with Democrats and a handful of Republicans over the weekend to create compromise legislation, which trimmed about $86 billion in spending — including $40 billion for the states — and $18 billion in tax cuts from the previous Senate version.
The Congressional Budget Office readjusted the estimated cost of the bill Monday to $838 billion, up from an $827 billion figure that had been widely quoted.
Congressional leaders now must work out a compromise between the Senate package and the House bill approved last week. Obama has said he wants to sign a bill into law by Presidents Day, which is Feb. 16.
An Appeal To The People
Earlier, as the Senate edged toward its vote, Obama took his case to the American people, saying the national unemployment rate could hit double digits if action isn't taken immediately.
"We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and as dire as any since the Great Depression," Obama told residents of Elkhart, Ind., where unemployment has soared to more than 15 percent — twice the national average. "Economists from across the spectrum have warned that if we don't act immediately, millions more jobs will be lost, and national unemployment rates will approach double digits."
Obama said the plan will save or create 3 million to 4 million jobs over the next two years, extend unemployment benefits, provide job training assistance, provide a tax credit for college students and give tax relief for middle-class workers and families.
"I'm not going to tell you that this bill is perfect; it isn't," Obama said. "But it is the right size, the right scope, and has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform it for the 21st century."
Elkhart Loses Jobs
Elkhart has been hard hit by the downturn in the economy. Obama said as many as 8,000 jobs have been lost in the community as recreational vehicle manufacturers — Monaco Coach, Keystone RV and Pilgrim International — have fallen on hard times.
Answering questions from the crowd of 1,700, Obama told one woman he favors using tax incentives to encourage businesses not to relocate overseas. But he said the key to attracting and keeping businesses is to provide a well-trained workforce. He said the Senate version of his recovery plan has slashed funds for education, but he hopes they are restored.
The president acknowledged to another questioner that he had made some mistakes in choosing nominees for high-level posts who owed back taxes — but he said the individuals were honest and had made honest mistakes.
"If you're not going to appoint anybody who's ever made a mistake in your life, then you're not going to have anybody taking your jobs," he said.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was criticized for owing $34,000 in self-employment taxes, but he paid them late and was confirmed. Former Sen. Tom Daschle and former Treasury Department official Nancy Killefer withdrew their names from consideration for top Obama administration jobs.
On Tuesday, Geithner is expected to unveil a plan for spending the second half of a financial aid package for U.S. banks battered by the financial crisis. The plan is expected to include government insurance of bad assets, a proposal to shift some securities off bank balance sheets, and money to modify home mortgages.
From NPR and wire reports