- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2009

UPDATED:

President Obama on Monday left the bitter Washington debate over his stimulus plan behind and traveled to a town in Indiana whose unemployment rate has tripled in the last year, promising a raucous crowd that he will fulfill his campaign’s promise of change by quickly pushing the deal through Congress to put Americans back to work.

“I promised you back then that if elected, I would do everything I could to help this community recover. And that’s why I came back today, because I intend to keep my promise. I intend to keep my promise,” Mr. Obama said, during a boisterous rally reminiscent of his campaign, where the audience chanted his name as he entered the Concord Community High School gymnasium in Elkhart, Ind.

The president, who has moved away from bipartisan rhetoric in the last week to confront Republican opposition to the more than $820 billion stimulus, told the crowd that Congress “can’t afford to wait,” warning of “deepening disaster” if nothing is done.

Unemployment in Elkhart, a city of roughly 50,000 in northern Indiana, has risen from 4.7 percent to 15.3 percent over the past year, racing ahead of the national rate, which rose to 7.6 percent in January.

“If we don’t act immediately, millions of more jobs will be lost; the national unemployment rates will approach double digits,” Mr. Obama said. “More people will lose their homes and their health care. And our nation will sink into a crisis that, at some point, we may be unable to reverse.”

“We’ve had a good debate. Now it’s time to act,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s why I am calling on Congress to pass this bill immediately. Folks here in Elkhart and all across America need help right now. They can’t afford to keep on waiting for folks in Washington to get this done.”

The Senate’s $827 billion version of the stimulus plan is expected to pass on Tuesday but then will face a tough round of negotiations between the Senate and House over differences in the versions they have passed.

The House version is roughly the same price, at $821 billion, as the Senate version but is heavier on government spending than the Senate version, which gives more money to tax breaks. Only a few Republicans are expected to vote for the Senate bill. The plan received no votes in the House from Republicans, who say the bill is a bloated mix of government programs that will do little to jump-start the economy.

Mr. Obama has said he wants a bill on his desk by this weekend.

Republicans in Congress continued to blame the Democratic leadership — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat — for shutting them out of the bill-making process.

“Despite our repeated attempts to work with President Obama, Speaker Pelosi has refused to work with House Republicans and instead crafted a pork-filled bill that even moderate members of her own party could not support,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, also said that Republicans in the upper chamber were not enthusiastic about the bill because they to had been left out of the drafting process.

But he also said GOP resistance had to do with the substance of the bill.

“I think [Mr. Obama’s] desire for greater Republican support was not possible because of the product the majority in the House and Senate produced,” Mr. McConnell said.

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