Obama to woo Republicans on stimulus plan

US President Barack Obama will on Tuesday hold talks with congressional Republicans who complain his $825-billion stimulus plan is too expensive, unworkable and larded with unneeded spending.

Obama is hoping for strong backing from opposition Republicans for the emergency economic plan, and warned on Monday after more grim economic news that the slumping economic climate showed the need for “swift and extraordinary” action.

But Republican lawmakers are being increasingly vocal in opposing the Bill, which comes up for debate in the House of Representatives this week, seeing an early chance to test the new president’s authority and cheer their demoralised party.

“The goal is to seek their input,” Obama’s spokesperson Robert Gibbs said on the eve of the president’s meetings with the Senate and House Republican caucuses—his first trip to his old haunts in Congress since taking office in the White House last week.

“He wants to hear their ideas—if there are good ideas—and I think he assumes there will be ... We will look at those ideas; that those ideas will go through a process in Congress,” Gibbs said.

Obama decided to travel the short distance to Capitol Hill after his meeting in the White House on Friday with top Republican and Democratic leaders appeared to do little to bridge the gaps.

Republicans have balked at the price of the $825-billion version of the stimulus rolled out by House Democrats, and complain that their demands for more tax cuts and less spending have not been met.

“I do think this Bill is likely to go out of here on Wednesday in a condition where most Republicans won’t agree with it,” said House Republican minority leader John Boehner.

The House of Representatives was expected to vote on Wednesday on the stimulus, with the Senate set to follow later with Obama pushing for a bill to be on his desk to sign before February 16.

“It’s not too late for the president to intervene himself when this Bill gets over to the Senate and to make this Bill better,” Boehner added.

McCain to oppose package
Republican Senator John McCain, who was vanquished by Obama in the presidential election, also said he would not vote for the stimulus package as it stands.

“There’s got to be some kind of litmus as to whether it will really stimulate the economy and whether it will in the short term,” McCain said.

Republicans lack the votes to defeat the stimulus Bill on their own, but could slow its progress, especially in the Senate.

Democrat House speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed impatience with Republican objections, saying: “Because the Republicans don’t vote for it doesn’t mean they didn’t have an opportunity to [speak out].”

House Majority leader Steny Hoyer last week stressed that the package includes $275-billion in tax cuts and warned Republicans: “This will probably be the largest tax cut they will get to vote for over the next 24 months.
They ought to grab it.”

Obama allies say he may need more funds to steady the reeling US banking sector beyond the $700-billion “Troubled Asset Relief Programme” (Tarp), but promised closer scrutiny and transparency.

That decision is expected to fall to new Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, who was sworn into office after winning a 60-34 Senate vote on Monday.

In a debate, Geithner’s foes had cited his failure to pay certain taxes earlier this decade and his support for government intervention in the economy, while his backers stressed his expertise and the urgent need to pull the US economy out of a paralysing recession.

After his swearing in Geithner said his agenda was to move quickly “to restore confidence in America’s economic leadership around the world”.—AFP

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