GOP leader doubts stimulus bill will pass Senate

February 1, 2009 1:36:37 PM PST
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday the massive stimulus bill backed by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats could go down to defeat if it's not stripped of unnecessary spending and focused more on housing issues and tax cuts. The Senate version of the bill, which topped out at nearly $900 billion, is headed to the floor for debate. The House bill totaled about $819 billion and earned no Republican votes, even though it easily passed the Democratic-controlled House. At some point lawmakers will need to compromise on the competing versions.

McConnell and other Republicans suggested that the bill needed an overhaul because it doesn't pump enough into the private sector through tax cuts and allows Democrats to go on a spending spree unlikely to jolt the economy. The Republican leader also complained that Democrats had not been as bipartisan in writing the bill as Obama had said he wanted.

"I think it may be time ... for the president to kind of get a hold of these Democrats in the Senate and the House, who have rather significant majorities, and shake them a little bit and say, 'Look, let's do this the right way,"' McConnell said. "I can't believe that the president isn't embarrassed about the products that have been produced so far."

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said he was seeing an erosion of support for the bill and suggested that lawmakers should consider beginning anew.

"When I say start from scratch, what I mean is that the basic approach of this bill, we believe, is wrong," Kyl said.

While Democrats defended the bill, they said they were open to considering changes by Republicans. But they also said the unrelentingly bleak economic news demanded action.

"We cannot delay this," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate Democrats' No. 2 leader. "We can't engage in the old political rhetoric of saying, 'Well, maybe it could be a little bit better here and a little bit better there.' We've got to pull together."

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed that more could be done in the area of housing, though he said tapping money in the separate financial bailout fund would be a more likely way to pay for mortgage relief.

Under Obama's plan, strained state budgets would receive a cash infusion, projects for roads and other infrastructure would be funded, and "green jobs" in the energy sector would be created. In its centerpiece tax cut, single workers would gain $500 and couples $1,000, even if they don't earn enough to owe federal income taxes.

Among the major changes Kyl said would be needed to gain Republican support in the Senate was the tax rebate for individuals and couples, which he criticized as going to too many people who didn't pay the tax to start with. He also criticized the bill for seeking to create nearly three dozen government programs and giving states far more money than they need.

Durbin argued that $1 out of every $3 in the bill goes to tax cuts and defended it as aimed at helping working families. While he contended that Democrats were "very open" to Republican proposals, he cited only what he said were calls for more money in job-creating public works projects, typically a Democratic priority.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., characterized the proposal as "a spending plan. It's not a stimulus plan. It's temporary, and it's wasteful."

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the bill was designed to help people who have been damaged in the economic meltdown as well as stimulate the economy.

"I never saw a tax cut fix a bridge. I never saw a tax cut give us more public transportation. The fact is, we need a mix," Frank said.

Durbin and Kyl appeared on "Fox News Sunday," DeMint and Frank were on ABC's "This Week," and McConnell and Schumer were on CBS' "Face the Nation."

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