- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2009

President Obama pressed the Senate to move quickly on his massive economic-stimulus plan, saying Saturday that Americans “have little patience” for political bickering and noting that while the bill isn’t perfect, it can jump-start job creation.

He also outlined the administration’s plans for the $350 billion remaining of the financial-bailout package that Congress passed late last year, saying the funds would be used to spur lending and help homeowners while sending the message that “arrogance and greed” on Wall Street would not be tolerated.

As Mr. Obama made his appeal, the White House faced a challenge on a separate front as the nomination of Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle before the Senate Finance Committee was complicated by revelations of problems with his personal tax records.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Mr. Obama remains convinced that Mr. Daschle is the right man for the job, adding, “We are confident the committee is going to schedule a hearing for him very soon, and he will be confirmed.”

And a White House official confirmed that Mr. Obama could name Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire as his choice for commerce secretary as early as Monday.

The official said Mr. Gregg, 61, is the “leading candidate” for the department. His confirmation — and the prospect that a Democrat may fill his Senate seat — could put Mr. Obama’s party on the cusp of a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

The Obama transition team and the Senate Finance Committee for nearly a month were aware that Mr. Daschle failed to pay taxes on a private car service that a friend allowed him to use, but when ABC News reported that the nominee paid $100,000 to make up for the three years of unreported income, Republican critics pounced.

Mr. Daschle, the point man for Mr. Obama’s plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system, also paid penalties and interest for missing one month of taxable income from a consulting client in 2007 and paid a penalty for faulty charitable deductions.

Daschle spokeswoman Jenny Backus pointed out that the former Senate Democratic leader disclosed all of the tax issues to the committee and the Obama team on Jan. 2, amended his returns, and paid the taxes and interest based on the most conservative estimate.

“As soon as he learned of it, he acted swiftly to correct it,” she said.

See related story:Stimulus plan stimulating enough?

Sources said Mr. Daschle was embarrassed over the tax problems and had not realized the car service could be considered income because a close friend allowed him to use it as a gift. Mr. Daschle first realized it could be a problem in June 2008 and his accountant set about fixing it.

Several Democrats on the Senate panel came to Mr. Daschle’s defense, citing their long relationship with the former senator from South Dakota and his decades of experience.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts called the tax problems an “innocent error” that Mr. Daschle “personally and proactively” took steps to correct.

“He is a man of great character and integrity who will do a superb job in helping us fix our health care system,” Mr. Kerry said.

But Mr. Daschle’s problems come on the heels of revelations of similar tax problems and late payments from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, revelations that angered Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike.

The economy remained the White House’s top focus as Mr. Obama held private meetings Saturday and prepared for a bipartisan Super Bowl party Sunday that could help congressional negotiations over the stimulus package. The House version of the bill included $819 billion in new spending and tax cuts, and the Senate version is likely to go even higher.

In his weekly radio address Saturday morning, Mr. Obama said it is “good news” that the House passed his bill this week, though he did not mention that not a single Republican voted for his plan.

“I will continue working with both parties so that the strongest possible bill gets to my desk. With the stakes so high, we simply cannot afford the same old gridlock and partisan posturing in Washington,” he said.

The president said the measure will “begin the long, hard work of lifting our economy out of this crisis,” but added, “No one bill, no matter how comprehensive, can cure what ails our economy.”

Mr. Obama said Mr. Geithner will soon lay out his plan for the remaining $350 billion from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package Congress passed late last year.

The new money will be used to revive the financial system by getting banks to loan to small businesses and by lowering mortgage costs, the president said. He also reiterated his criticism of the $20 billion in “shameful” bonuses that some Wall Street executives received for 2008 despite taking the government’s bailout money.

“We’ll ensure that CEOs are not draining funds that should be advancing our recovery,” Mr. Obama said, promising he would insist on “unprecedented transparency, rigorous oversight and clear accountability — so taxpayers know how their money is being spent and whether it is achieving results.”

He said many are “rightfully” frustrated by the how the first $350 billion of the financial-bailout package was spent because it was difficult to track and to measure its impact.

“While I’m committed to doing what it takes to maintain the flow of credit, the American people will not excuse or tolerate such arrogance and greed. The road to recovery demands that we all act responsibly, from Main Street to Washington to Wall Street,” Mr. Obama said.

The administration also posted video of the president’s address at WhiteHouse.gov.

Though Mr. Obama did not mention the word “Democrat” or “Republican,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell used the Republican weekly radio address to blast the “massive bill” that he said “looks more like a $1 trillion Christmas list” for Democrats.

Mr. McConnell noted that Mr. Obama met with Republican congressional leaders earlier in the week and said the president “is counting on members of Congress to come together in a spirit of bipartisanship to act.” But he highlighted what he said was pork spending in the bill passed by House Democrats.

He said the bill “falls far short of the president’s vision for a bill that creates jobs and puts us on a path to long-term economic health,” citing $20 million for the removal of fish-passage barriers, $25 million to improve all-terrain vehicle trails, $34 million to renovate the Department of Commerce building in Washington and $600 million to buy new cars for government workers.

“Politicians in Washington shouldn’t be spending taxpayer dollars on new cars for government workers or sprucing up federal buildings in Washington,” Mr. McConnell said, outlining the Republicans’ alternative tax-cut proposals and a plan to offer government-backed fixed mortgages to lower monthly payments.

“Republicans are committed to working with President Obama to steer Americans out of the current economic troubles,” the Kentucky Republican said.

The president also was expected to make private remarks Saturday night at the traditional Alfalfa Dinner in Washington.

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