Sun, Feb 08, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Divided US Senate unveils stimulus deal

AFP , WASHINGTON

US President Barack Obama’s Democratic Senate allies on Friday unveiled a pared-down plan to pump at least US$780 billion into the ailing US economy and vowed to pass it this week.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that this severe recession we’re in does not become another Great Depression,” US Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said, as all but a handful of Republicans vowed to oppose the deal.

The accord’s price tag would be far smaller than the US$937 billion previously under consideration, a reduction aimed at winning over elusive Republican support that was entirely absent when the House of Representatives passed its US$820 billion version of the measure last week.

If the measure clears the Senate, both chambers would reconcile their rival bills and then vote on the resulting final product — which Obama has said he wants to see on his desk by Feb. 16.

Lawmakers were to resume debate on the measure in a rare session yesterday.

Reid signaled that he believed his 58 Democrats had enough Republican support to secure the 60 votes needed to thwart any parliamentary delaying tactics and said he hoped for a vote “as early as we can next week.”

The new compromise measure emerged, under pressure from the White House and ever-grimmer unemployment numbers, from closed-door talks by a group of swing-vote Republicans and Democrats.

“We trimmed the fat, fried the bacon and milked the sacred cows,” said Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, a leader of the group.

The final cost could rise to about US$800 because of various amendments still pending, Senate sources said as Republican foes of the original package quickly trained their guns on the new agreement.

“Most of us are deeply skeptical that this will work and that level of skepticism leads us to believe that this course of action should not be chosen,” Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Republicans said their calculations put the new bill at roughly US$830 billion, plus nearly US$350 billion in debt service — meaning the overall price tag was about US$1.2 trillion.

“We’re talking about an extraordinarily large amount of money and a crushing debt for our grandchildren,” McConnell said.

“If this legislation is passed, it will be a very bad day for America,” Republican Senator John McCain said.

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