- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2009

President Obama on Saturday morning warned of a “national catastrophe” if Congress does not move quickly to pass and implement his economic-stimulus plan, praising the Senate’s tentative deal on an $827 billion version of the bill.

“If we don’t move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe. Millions of Americans will lose their jobs, their homes and their health care. Millions more will have to put their dreams on hold,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly radio address.

The president, joined elsewhere Saturday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, continued to wage a rhetorical battle against Republicans — only three of whom support the bill in the Senate, and none of whom voted for it in the House — ridiculing GOP calls for more tax relief and less spending in the stimulus bill.

“Let’s be clear: We can’t expect relief from the tired, old theories that, in eight short years, doubled the national debt, threw our economy into a tailspin and led us into this mess in the first place,” Mr. Obama said. “We can’t rely on a losing formula that offers only tax cuts as the answer to all our problems.”

He defended congressional Democrats’ efforts to push the enormous-stimulus package through quickly, saying the bill “deserves the scrutiny that it’s received over the last month,” but adding that the nation “can’t afford to make ‘perfect’ the enemy of ‘the absolutely necessary.’ ”

A Senate vote on the stimulus proposal is expected as early as Monday after a group of moderate Democrats and Republicans, led by Sens. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, and Susan Collins, Maine Republican, agreed on trimming about $85 billion in spending and $25 billion in tax cuts from a version of the bill that had topped $930 billion.

Meanwhile, House Democrats, wrapping up a three-day retreat in Williamsburg, said they look forward to negotiations on reconciling their version of the bill with the Senate’s expected version.

Leaders also continued to hammer Republican critics of the stimulus plan, with Mrs. Pelosi accusing them of “personality attacks.”

“The people who can’t win on policy always resort to process, and then they stoop to their personality attacks,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters at the Kingsmill golf resort, where about 200 House Democrats gathered for a three-day conference. “The process afforded Republicans every opportunity to put their suggestions forward, and they know that.”

Her defense of the House version of the stimulus package — crafted solely by Democrats — was buoyed by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who said there “was a lot of bipartisanship.”

“The bipartisanship was in defeat of the Republican proposals that were put on the House floor,” Mr. Hoyer said.

House Republicans quickly hit back, arguing that the White House and House Democrats are not on the same page.

“Two months ago, President Obama never thought the biggest obstacle to delivering the ‘change’ he promised would be Speaker Pelosi and Steny Hoyer,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. “House Republicans have made creating and protecting jobs their focus, and it must be extremely frightening to like-minded Blue Dogs like Brad Ellsworth [of Indiana] and Gene Taylor [of Mississippi] that their views would be disregarded so harshly by their leaders.”

Added Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner: “The House Democratic leadership’s failure to understand what bipartisanship is may explain why, despite the president’s repeated calls for it, they crafted a partisan bill that was rejected by every single Republican and nearly a dozen Democrats.”

Democratic leaders also took the news media to task for its coverage of Mr. Obama’s stepped-up defense of his bill in recent days.

Mr. Hoyer said he was surprised to see the news media cover the president’s speech in Williamsburg on Thursday night — in which he seemed to ratchet up his rhetoric in a mostly ad-libbed address — as a departure from an earlier tone of bipartisanship, as opposed to a consistent espousing of principles.

“It was perceived somehow as some real change in strategy,” Mr. Hoyer said. “It was not at all. We believe there are certain priorities; he believes there are certain priorities that we ought to pursue.”

Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina said Mr. Obama’s deviation from a teleprompter simply meant that he “began to express these things from his heart.”

“Over the last two years, that’s the way he connected with the American people,” Mr. Clyburn said.

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