Crunch time for Obama, Democrats on US economy

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and his Democratic allies scrambled to craft a massive economic stimulus package.

Crunch time for Obama, Democrats on US economy

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and his Democratic allies scrambled on Sunday to craft a massive economic stimulus package he hopes to sign into law soon after taking office on Jan. 20 -- provided he can placate resistant Senate Republicans.

Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will meet Democratic and Republican congressional leaders on Monday in hopes of winning swift passage for an emergency measure to stem a deepening U.S. recession.

Earlier Democratic hopes of having a package ready for Obama to sign when he takes office on Jan. 20 seem to have been too optimistic. House of Representatives Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told "Fox News Sunday" program the signing may slide until mid-February.

With the new Congress set to convene on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vowed to find common ground with wary Republicans on a rescue package of middle-class tax cuts and new spending on such basics as roads, bridges and schools.

Democrats say it will cost about $775 billion. But Republicans predict a bill of up to $1 trillion.

Obama and congressional Democrats were also considering a huge expansion of federal health care insurance and unemployment benefits as part of a two-year recovery program, a senior party aide said on Sunday.

Bipartisanship

"Whatever we do must be done on a bipartisan basis," Reid told NBC's "Meet the Press" program, acknowledging Senate Republican support would be needed to move legislation.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell voiced concerns about how quickly Democrats may try to push a stimulus package and what may be included in it. He also suggested that federal funds be loaned rather than given to states.

But McConnell said Obama could ultimately win broad Republican support if Republicans are provided a fair opportunity to shape it.

"I think if they pursue a fair process, in the Senate at least, where fairness is typically the rule, and give both sides an opportunity to have input, to have it -- a true bipartisan stamp -- he's likely to get significant support," McConnell told ABC's "This Week."

As a result of last November's elections, Democrats will enjoy expanded majorities in both the 100-member Senate and 435-member House.

Yet Republicans will hold at least 41 Senate seats, enough to sustain procedural roadblocks known as filibusters provided they keep all of their members in line.

Ethan Siegal of The Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks Congress for institutional investors, said, "In the end, Republicans will not block the stimulus package ... The country is not behind them. It's behind Barack Obama."

Democrats under pressure

Having rolled to victory on Election Day with a promise of change after eight turbulent years under Republican President George W. Bush, Democrats are under pressure to produce.

Their campaign vows include ones to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and redeploy many of them in Afghanistan; expand health care; bolster regulation of the financial industry and develop alternative energy sources while curbing pollution that contributes to global warming.

Democrats controlled Congress during the past two years, but Senate Republicans routinely blocked much of their agenda.

Democrats hope that with their expanded Senate majority and help from some moderate Republicans, they will be able to pass a number of measures previously stalled.

These include ones to:

* Allow the government to negotiate companies' prices for drugs covered under Medicare's health program for the elderly.

* Overhaul U.S. immigration policy by tightening border security while giving some illegals a path toward citizenship.

* Reverse a U.S. Supreme Court decision that made it tougher for workers to sue for pay discrimination.

Their top priority, however, will be the stimulus package.

Reid refused to offer a timetable for when the package will be sent to Obama, telling "Meet the Press": "It will take as much time as it needs." He also declined to say if the price tag may hit $1 trillion.

Reid said it will cost "whatever it takes to bring this country back on a fiscal footing that is decent. We don't want to do a little bit and say, 'Well we should have done more.'"

"We want to do it right the first time," Reid said.

Reuters

Last Mod: 05 Ocak 2009, 12:56
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