Stimulus bill vote may come later today
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday that Congress is nearly finished with a massive, $790 billion economic stimulus plan giving President Barack Obama a big victory, but not everything he wanted.
The Nevada Democrat said as debate resumed that the Senate would likely vote on the package of spending and tax cuts later in the day and that both the Senate and House would do the work necessary to quickly get the emergency legislation to Obama's desk.
Obama said the heart of the emerging plan is "to create jobs."
"Not just any jobs, but jobs doing the work America needs done: repairing our infrastructure, modernizing our schools and hospitals, and promoting the clean, alternative energy sources that will help us finally declare independence from foreign oil," the president said.
The 1,071 page bill, eight inches thick, bill was posted on an overburdened congressional Web site late Thursday, giving lawmakers just a few overnight hours to read it before debate resumed in both the House and Senate Friday morning. Just on Tuesday, the House voted unanimously to recommend that lawmakers and the public have at least 48 hours to read the legislation before a vote.
Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure panel, said that just the $64 billion in key transportation investments and other infrastructure programs under his panel's jursidiction would "create or sustain 1.8 million jobs. Real jobs, construction jobs ....They'll get a day's wage and pay taxes on it."
"Right now, we have a once in a generation chance to act boldly, to turn adversity into opportunity, and use this crisis as a chance to transform our economy for the 21st century," Obama had said Thursday. "That is the driving purpose of the recovery and reinvestment plan."
The plan is the signature initiative of the fledgling Obama administration, which is betting that combining tax cuts of just a few dollars a week for most workers with an infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars of government spending over the next few years will arrest the economy's fall.
But the inclusion of a $70 billion tax break to make sure middle- to upper-income taxpayers won't get hit by the alternative minimum tax forced a reduction of Obama's signature tax break for 95 percent of workers.
Republicans pointed out a bevy of questionable spending items that made the final cut in House-Senate negotiations, including money to replace computers at federal agencies, inspect canals, and issue coupons for convertor boxes to help people watch TV when the changeover to digital signals occurs this summer.
"This measure is not bipartisan. It contains much that is not stimulative," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama's rival for the White House. "And is nothing short -- nothing short -- of generational theft" since it burdens future generations with so much debt, he added.
Larry Summers, a former Clinton administration Treasury secretary and now head of Obama's White House-based economics council, was asked Friday how far the bill will go toward reviving the economy.
"It is the biggest fiscal expansion in our country's history," he replied in an appearance on NBC's "Today" show.
But Summers cautioned against raising expectations too high.
"I think this is a key part of what's gong to be a multipart strategy to contain this decline," he said. But Summers added that the problems "weren't made in a week, a month, a year. It's going to take time to fix."
He said it should not be considered a "silver bullet," or panacea for deeply rooted business woes.
"We don't have a viable alternative," he said. "We're going to have starts and stops."
Much of the spending won't be delivered this year or even next, and Republicans pointed to studies by the Congressional Budget Office that say that adding so much to the national debt would cost the economy by the end of the decade.
The $790 billion plan combines $286 billion in tax cuts with $311 billion in programs funded by the appropriations committees and about $193 billion in spending for benefit programs such as unemployment assistance, $250 payments or millions of people receiving Social Security benefits, and extra money for states to help with the Medicaid health program for the poor and disabled.
Obama's "Making Work Pay" tax cut would be scaled back from $500 for most workers to $400, with couples getting $800 instead of $1,000.
Republicans, lined up to vote against the bill, piled on the scorn. "This is not the smart approach," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. "The taxpayers of today and tomorrow will be left to clean up the mess."
It was clear that the measure was the result of old-fashioned sausage-making. Pet provisions were coming to light that had not been included in the original bills that passed the House or Senate -- or that differed markedly from earlier versions. Some appeared to brush up against claims of the bill's supporters that no pet projects known as "earmarks" were included.
One last-minute addition was a $3.2 billion tax break for General Motors Corp. that would allow the ailing auto giant to use current losses to claim refunds for taxes paid when times were good. GM got a $13.4 billion federal bailout late last year -- and is expected to receive more in 2009 -- and argued that without the provision, its government-financed turnaround plan could force the company to pay higher taxes.
Then there was $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, a priority for both Obama and Reid, who's up for re-election and is a GOP target. While not explicitly named, a Los Angeles to Las Vegas rail project that Reid's been backing for years stands to win funding as does a project in Obama's home state of Illinois.