Stimulus Measure Passes Key Senate Test

The Senate voted Monday to cut off debate on the economic stimulus bill and move it toward passage. The vote was 61-36, one more than the 60 votes needed to move the bill toward passage in the Senate Tuesday.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

The Senate voted late today to end a Republican filibuster of President Obama's massive economic stimulus package.

Unidentified Woman: On this vote, the yays are 61, the nays are 36. Three- fifths of the senators duely chosen and sworn, having voted in the affirmative, the motion is agreed to.

BLOCK: Three breakaway Republicans joined all 58 members of the Democratic Caucus, including ailing Senator Ted Kennedy, to move a compromise bill struck late last week towards Senate passage tomorrow. NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA: The Senate spent all last week, including Saturday, debating and amending its nearly $900 billion stimulus package. And if it were up to Senate Republicans they'd keep on debating it indefinitely. But today in Elkhart, Indiana, where unemployment is above 15 percent, President Obama made clear at a town hall meeting that his patience with GOP delaying tactics has run out.

BARACK OBAMA: So we've had a good debate. Now it's time to act. That's why I'm calling on Congress to pass this bill immediately. Folks here in Elkhart and all across America need help right now. They can't afford to keep waiting for folks in Washington to get this done.

WELNA: The president is clearly trying to increase public pressure on Congress to act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid meanwhile today brandished the threat of foregoing next week's week-long President's Day break to goad his colleagues into action.

HARRY REID: And we can plan and hope all next week to be home so we can be doing things that we can't do on weekends. But if we can't complete this legislation, we'll have to cut into that, and our responsibilities at home will have to be set for some other day. So I'm confident that we can get it done by Friday. There's no reason we can't.

WELNA: But there may, in fact, be a very good reason Congress won't get the stimulus package done by Friday, and it's that House Democrats are not at all happy with the deep cuts their Democratic colleagues in the Senate agreed to in the compromise struck with those few Republican senators. Those cuts could complicate the efforts that have to take place this week to reconcile the Senate's version with the one passed by the House. California Democrat Barbara Boxer said today that she, too, regretted those cuts.

BARBARA BOXER: And I want to send a message to my friends in the House of Representatives. I know how you feel. I know that things were left out of this compromise that you desperately want into this bill. But I will say you should fight for that, but at the end of the day, again, go back to the three options: doing nothing, doing the perfect bill or doing the compromise.

WELNA: Arizona Republican John McCain led efforts to block the bill. By allowing it to move forward, he said, the Senate is committing an act of generational theft.

JOHN MCCAIN: It is increasing spending, increasing the role of government in a draconian and unprecedented fashion, and laying a debt on future generations of Americans of many trillions of dollars.

WELNA: Max Baucus, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, reminded McCain there's more in the compromise bill than the government spending.

MAX BAUCUS: My colleagues love tax cuts. This bill cuts taxes by $300 billion.

WELNA: McCain, who voted against both President Bush's tax cuts, had a question for Baucus, who voted for one of them.

MCCAIN: Can I ask the senator for Montana: He does not like tax cuts?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAUCUS: (unintelligible) tax cuts.

MCCAIN: Good.

WELNA: Baucus, like other Democrats, sought to equate Republicans' resistance to the stimulus package with the tight-fisted, slow-moving response of GOP President Herbert Hoover to the Great Depression.

HERBERT HOOVER: Let us not repeat the dithering of the late 1920s and the early 1930s.

WELNA: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked today whether he and his fellow Republicans might be risking a political backlash by opposing the stimulus.

MITCH MCCONNELL: I think the overwhelming majority of Republicans are very comfortable with where we are on this particular issue.

WELNA: Of greater concern to Democrats this week is whether the three Senate Republicans who've broken with their pack will remain comfortable with whatever is worked out with the House.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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Stimulus Advances In Senate; Obama Presses Case

Obama Meets The Press

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

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