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Details Still Sparse On Stimulus Bill
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Details Still Sparse On Stimulus Bill

Politics

Details Still Sparse On Stimulus Bill

Details Still Sparse On Stimulus Bill
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The House and the Senate agreed Thursday on a $790 billion economic stimulus package. The deal provides about 35 percent in tax cuts and 65 percent in spending, along with billion in aid to the states, as well as a tax cut for most working families. Few other details are forthcoming, however.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Lawmakers and their staffs on Capitol Hill are rushing to get the economic stimulus bill in shape for a final vote. House and Senate negotiators reached a deal last night but that doesn't mean that all the details are clear. With the economy suffering and the clock ticking down to the start of the congressional recess, a hard drive is on to get this thing done. In a moment, we'll take a close look at some of the tax breaks the bill should provide. But first, here is NPR's Andrea Seabrook with an overview of what's known about the bill.

ANDREA SEABROOK: When the deal was struck yesterday, we, mostly, knew the broad contours of the stimulus package: $790 billion, about 35 percent in tax cuts, 65 percent in spending, tens of billions in aid to the states, a tax cut for most working families. But, if you don't know much more than that, well, you're in good company.

Representative KENDRICK MEEK (Democrat, Florida): There was a lot of rumors flying around this morning of what was in and what was out.

SEABROOK: Congressman Kendrick Meek, he's a Democrat from Florida. Meek says not even members of Congress are sure of the details.

Rep. MEEK: I mean, it's almost like as the information electronically is sent out, Blackberries are humming here in the Capitol. You have staffers that are calling senior staffers and - who are calling other senior staffers, to try to find out the real deal.

SEABROOK: And this afternoon the bill was still being written. You can be sure that tonight will be a late one for Congressman Meek and many others, pouring over the hundreds of pages, section by section.

Rep. MEEK: Hopefully, when this comes to a vote, we will pretty much have a level of clarity of what's in this legislation and what's not in it.

SEABROOK: Part of the problem in describing the thing is that it is so big talking about any one program in it is like describing the tail of an elephant - doesn't really give you the whole picture. So here is the cliff notes: The largest single section of the bill sends money to state and local governments to modernize roads, bridges, waterways, public transit and so on. The second largest - the tax cuts.

A few hundred dollars for each American worker and tax incentives for businesses - for job creation, investment and energy saving. Another big piece sends tens of billions to the states to help pay for Medicaid, health insurance for the unemployed and for modernizing medical records. The education part of the bill sends billions to states and local governments to help prevent teacher layoffs and school budget cutbacks.

Somewhat smaller sections of the bill, though still huge by any normal standards, are tens of billions in new scientific research funding, and investment in American energy sources and a smart electric grid. Congressman John Larson of Connecticut, a member of the House Democratic leadership, said there's a reason this stimulus bill has so many different parts.

Representative JOHN LARSON (Democrat, Connecticut): Given the cavernous hole that has been left this administration, this represents a steady ascent from this cavern in a very determined and step-by-step process.

SEABROOK: And as for the overall size of it: That's the thing that Republicans says stares them most. Illinois' Mark Kirk says forget the rhetoric about our children paying for this in the future.

Representative MARK KIRK (Republican, Illinois): The bureau of the debt reports with passage of this legislation we will have to borrow $2.1 trillion just this year.

SEABROOK: Interestingly the size of the bill is also a sticking point for more left leaning Democrats, like Maryland's Elijah Cummings. And not because it's so big.

Representative ELIJAH CUMMINGS (Democrat, Maryland): I think I'm a little disappointed that we could not do more to help folks who are down and out with, by the way, their own tax dollars.

SEABROOK: In the end though, Cummings repeated the words that have become something of a mantra among the leaders of the House and Senate and the White House.

Rep. CUMMINGS: I mean, we have, we have no choice. We have no choice.

SEABROOK: Even though most people here in the Capitol have not seen the bill yet, most Democrats - and even a handful of Republicans - say they have no choice but to vote for it.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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Obama To See If Stimulus Plan Will Play In Peoria

Obama To See If Stimulus Plan Will Play In Peoria
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President Obama will get to see how his stimulus plan plays in Peoria on Thursday.

Obama has been traveling around the country to promote the plan — which congressional Democrats and a few key Republicans struck a deal on Wednesday. Their compromise will be put to a vote as early as Thursday.

The White House used all the tools in its kit to change the dynamic of the stimulus debate this week. After watching Republicans define the stimulus as wasteful spending and pork, the president decided to give a prime-time press conference and make a series of campaign-style stops.

On Monday, he went to Elkhart, Ind., which has one of the highest unemployment rates. On Tuesday, it was Fort Myers, Fla., which has the highest home foreclosure rate. And on Thursday, it's East Peoria, Ill., where Obama will make a pitch to workers at a Caterpillar manufacturing plant.

Caterpillar was seen as a model American manufacturer, with sales booming. But it recently announced big layoffs — more than 20,000 jobs.

Obama said he's going to speak with workers at the Caterpillar plant "because what's at stake here are not abstract numbers or abstract concepts — we're talking about real families that we can help and real jobs that we can save."

The advantage of having the president outside of Washington is that the public gets to see him interacting with real people — people like Henrietta Hughes, who came to his town-hall meeting in Florida.

"I have an urgent need: unemployment and homelessness — a very small vehicle for my family and I to live in," she said. "The housing authority has two years' waiting lists. And we need something more than the vehicle and the parks to go to. We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom. Please help."

Obama waded into the crowd and gave Hughes a kiss. "We're going to do everything we can to help you," he said.

Hughes got some help — and that display of concern may have helped Obama convince voters to give his plan a chance to work.

Meanwhile, the campaign organization that fueled the president's victory in November was cranking into gear.

"We are, as an organization, going to continue the tactics that proved successful in the primary and in the general election — which is having friends talk to friends, and neighbors talk to neighbors about issues they care about," said Mitch Stewart, the new director of Organizing for America — formerly the Obama campaign — in a video e-mailed to the 13 million people who signed up on mybarackobama.com.

Stewart asked Obama supporters to host economic recovery house meetings to talk about the stimulus bill. And, according to Stewart, more than 3,500 meetings were held last weekend.

Independent groups also geared up to help. The union-backed Americans United for Change did something it had never done before: It ran ads praising Republicans — or, at least the few Republicans who sided with the president.

"Fortunately, Maine's two senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are providing the leadership we need to get the job done," the ads said.

On the road this week, Obama tried to recapture a populist message — a message that had been undermined by the tax troubles of several of his Cabinet nominees.

"You've got a guy who's making $20 million a year who ran his bank into the ground, and now we've got to come in and clean up the mess. Now, that's something that — it just makes you mad," he said.

Cleaning up the bank mess turned out to be the big misfire for the White House this week. At his press conference on Monday, Obama raised expectations for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's rollout of the bank bailout plan.

"I want all of you to show up at his press conference as well," Obama said. "He's going to be terrific."

But Geithner wasn't terrific. And the administration was widely criticized for leading people to believe it had an actual plan to buy up toxic assets when, as a Washington Post editorial complained, all it really had was a concept. In a bad day on the campaign trail, you might drop a point or two in the polls. On a bad day in the White House, the Dow can drop 382 points.

Still, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday's big sell-off would be the wrong way to measure the bank bailout plan.

"This is not going to be judged on the one-day market reaction, but instead by what is best for the long-term economic health of America," he said.

Although the administration still has a lot of work to do on the financial bailout, Obama soon could be savoring his first big legislative victory: The stimulus bill is expected to reach his desk as early as Friday.

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