- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The White House on Monday embraced the economic stimulus drafted by congressional Democrats and belittled Republican objections to excessive spending in the bill, saying it added up to just $699 million - chump change in Washington.

“I’m not very good at math, but that amounts to seven-hundredths of one percent of a piece of legislation that the American people desperately need to get back to work,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. “I know there’s a tendency to focus on that seven-hundredths of one percent.”

But Republicans and some Democrats want major revisions to the Senate’s $885 billion version of the bill, including cutting spending unrelated to stimulus, such as $870 million to prepare for a flu pandemic and $400 million to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

“I’ve got about $350 billion in problems with it, at a minimum,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, whom President Obama as a senator teamed with to fight pork-barrel spending.

Senate Republicans also want more action to resolve the housing crisis that sparked the recession and more tax cuts for businesses and middle-income Americans.

Mr. Obama met Monday with Congress’ Democratic leaders to discuss the stimulus, which he says must be passed quickly to speed relief to struggling families.

The Senate is scheduled to take up a stack of amendments before the final version of the bill emerges for a vote by the end of the week. But if majority Democrats succeed in voting down every major revision offered, it could set the stage for a Republican filibuster.

Not a single Republican voted for the $819 billion House version that passed last week. In the Senate, the Democratic majority will need at least a couple Republican votes to advance the legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, says he is confident the bill will pass.

The spending drew fire from both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, objected over the weekend to including spending items such as $75 million for smoking cessation, $345 million for Agriculture Department computers and $100 million for Energy Department computer research.

“This isn’t about pork, but it may be about sacred cows,” said Mr. Nelson, who is working on a bipartisan alternative. “We want to make this stimulus bill better and bipartisan so we get more bang for the buck.”

Mr. Gibbs said Mr. Nelson was focusing on that seven-hundredths of one percent of the bill, the sixth time he referenced that figure during the daily White House press briefing.

“I think the president believes and his team believe that, if members will step back and look at not just the seven-hundredths of one percent … you’ll find that this meets the president’s standard of stimulating the economy, creating jobs [and] investing in our long-term economic growth,” Mr. Gibbs said.

He said he calculated the 0.07 figure himself, saying his math is “shaky at best, but I did it twice on my computer.”

Mr. Nelson on Monday took umbrage with the Gibbs’ characterization, saying on Fox News: “It’s more money than that. We’re talking in the billions or tens of billions that we’re looking to exclude from this particular program.”

The White House later clarified the $699 million amount referred to a press release from the Senate Republican Communications Center sent to reporters Thursday.

The release criticized congressional Democratic leaders for pork-barrel spending in the Senate version. It totaled up $20 million for fish passage barriers, $25 million for rehabilitating off-road trails for all-terrain vehicles, $34 million to remodel the Commerce Department’s headquarters, $70 million for supercomputing activities for climate research, $150 million for honey bee insurance and $400 million for STD prevention.

The release referred to each page of the bill.

However, Senate Republicans and even some Democrats have used much larger figures - as high as $19.3 billion - to describe unnecessary or wasteful spending tucked into the bill.

White House deputy press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr. Gibbs was making the point that some Republicans are “focusing on small potatoes when the overarching goal is the big challenge of putting people back to work and stimulating the economy.”

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