- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

Barack Obama” href=”/themes/?Theme=Barack+Obama” >President-elect Barack Obama sought to move the economic stimulus debate past broad agreement on the outlines, pushing Congress to overcome squabbles or risk a long recession that threatens America’s “strength and standing in the world.”

With Democrats’ self-imposed deadline for passing a bill already having slipped into February, the president-elect warned that inaction would lead to double-digit unemployment and a recession that “could linger for years.”

“Every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs. More families will lose their savings. More dreams will be deferred and denied. And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse,” Mr. Obama said in a speech at George Mason University.

Though he has won support for creating a spending and tax cuts package, he wants a plan that amounts to about $800 billion while Democratic leaders in Congress want to go hundreds of billions of dollars higher, and both parties are fighting over which of his tax cut ideas to accept.

Some Democrats shot down the president-elect’s plan for $3,000 business tax credits to hire or retain workers.

“If I’m a business person, it’s unlikely if you give me a several-thousand-dollar credit I’m going to hire people when I can’t sell the products they are producing,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, specifically referring to auto manufacturers.

Senate Democrats and Obama transition officials are not on the same page when it comes to how to deliver the $1,000-per-couple middle-class tax cuts in workers’ paychecks.

“It is an income tax cut,” an Obama official said. “It will be reflected in reduced withholding. It is designed to reimburse people for the payroll taxes they paid.”

But a senior Senate Democratic aide familiar with the stimulus negotiations said the rebate would come in reduced FICA taxes, the withholding from pay that goes to Social Security and Medicare.

Mr. Obama had hoped for a bill to be ready for his signature when he takes office Jan. 20, but that deadline has slipped. The goal now is to have a package enacted before Congress takes its Presidents Day recess in February.

The president-elect said he expects skepticism given how much Congress and President Bush have spent to rescue the economy, all to little effect. But Mr. Obama said “independent experts” will monitor how the recovery package money is spent, and details will be put online for the public to scrutinize.

After Mr. Obama’s speech, Senate Democrats spent two hours dissecting the proposal in a caucus meeting, with much of the back and forth focused on the tax provisions, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“Some felt it’s not enough here or too much there, and that’s what this meeting was all about,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters after the closed-door meeting.

Still, from labor unions to environmentalists to conservative Republicans in Congress, Mr. Obama has offered something for everyone in his economic recovery bill, winning near-universal approval for his call to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on public works and infrastructure programs as a way to create jobs and boost the economy.

Environmentalists praised Mr. Obama’s call for investment in renewable energy, while unions echoed Mr. Obama’s call for urgency.

“If Congress needs just three weeks to pass a Wall Street bailout, then we should be able to count on our leaders to pass Main Street relief with as much urgency,” said Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern.

Even while telling him to try to keep spending in line, Republicans praised Mr. Obama for including tax cuts and promising transparency and accountability with the money.

“I think we are being listened to,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “I’m pleased with what the new president’s had to say so far.”

Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said Mr. Obama’s stimulus plan “offers a promising start but needs to be closely scrutinized.”

He said the plan should stick to proven strategies, such as corporate tax cuts, to create jobs and expand the economy.

“Our economy needs help now more than ever before, but that doesn’t mean there should be a rubber stamp from Congress,” Mr. Ensign said. “It is our duty to take a careful and deliberate approach when crafting the stimulus plan so that it fits the bill of money spent wisely and effectively.”

• David M. Dickson contributed to this report.

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