Obama and Senate Republicans bicker over stimulus
By ANDREW TAYLOR and PHILIP ELLIOTT
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans bickered Saturday over his historically huge economic recovery plan after states and schools lost tens of billions of dollars in a late-night bargain to save it.
The $827 billion measure is on track to pass the Senate on Tuesday despite stiff opposition from the GOP and disappointment among Democrats, including the new president who labeled it imperfect. Next up: Difficult negotiations between the House and Senate, which are divided over spending for tax cuts, education and aid for local governments.
"We can't afford to make perfect the enemy of the absolutely necessary," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address, sounding a note of pragmatism that liberal followers rarely heard on the campaign trail.
Still, the popular president - six in 10 voters approve of his performance so far - scolded Republicans with a pointed reminder that Democrats, not Republicans, were victorious in November.
Hours later, the Senate convened a rare Saturday session to debate a compromise forged between GOP moderates and the White House late Friday, a rare burst of comity aimed at securing passage of the bill with a few Republican votes joining the Democratic majority.
The compromise reached between a handful of GOP moderates, the White House and its Senate allies stripped $108 billion in spending from Obama's plan, including cutbacks in projects that likely would give the economy a quick lift, like $40 billion in aid to state governments for education and other programs.
Yet it retained items that also probably won't help the economy much, such as $650 million to help people without cable receive digital signals through their old-fashioned televisions or $1 billion to fix problems with the 2010 Census.
Among the most difficult cuts for the White House and its liberal allies to accept was the elimination of $40 billion in aid to states, money that economists say is a relatively efficient way to pump up the economy by preventing layoffs, cuts in services or tax increases.
"It reduces a number of highly stimulative items like state fiscal relief ... and largely substitute for it some large tax cuts that are highly ineffective as stimulus," said Bob Greenstein, founder of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "So your net result is a bill that gets significantly less bang for the buck."
Still, the bill retains the core of Obama's plan, designed to ease the worst economic recession in generations by combining hundreds of billions of dollars in spending to boost consumption by the public sector, along with tax cuts designed to increase consumer spending.