Obama to face early test on stimulus bill

Obama's Transition

December 18, 2008|By Peter Nicholas | Peter Nicholas,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama's call for speedy adoption of a massive spending plan to "jolt" the economy will prove an early test of two major promises: that he will work in a bipartisan style with a skeptical Republican Party, and that he will purge the federal budget of wasteful projects.

Even conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill predict that, in the end, a substantial stimulus package will pass. Job losses and a deepening recession demand a quick infusion of money, they say.

But Republicans in the Senate, even with their ranks diminished, still possess leverage to tailor a package that fits certain specifications. They want public hearings on the stimulus, even if it thwarts Democratic ambitions to present the bill to Obama for his signature when he is sworn into office Jan. 20. And they insist the bill be scrubbed of projects that, in their view, are aimed more at appeasing interest groups than creating jobs.

When the new Congress convenes on Jan. 6, Senate Democrats will still lack the 60-vote majority needed to stave off Republican delaying tactics - a reality that gives Republicans some confidence that they can win concessions.

Obama has identified the stimulus package as an urgent priority. His economic advisors are now considering a package of no less than $600 billion and potentially up to $1 trillion over two years, according to the transition office.

The fate of the bill could shape the course of Obama's presidency. If it works, it could help lift the economy out of recession, giving him the space to enact his ambitious energy, education and health care programs.

Behind him is a formidable array of interest groups eager to see a major national spending program unleashed. Business groups and organized labor, mayors and governors-all will be pressing lawmakers to pass Obama's spending plan.

Republicans would like to see the timetable slowed and more debate encouraged, which they argue would also be in keeping with the transparent and inclusive style Obama embraced as a candidate for president.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said: "There has to be transparency for a bill that big. If it gets to be $800 billion to $900 billion, it's bigger than any single bill in the history of the country. It's going to take some work and need some oversight, and nobody's really talking about that right now."

Demanding that the bill be passed by inauguration day, he said, ``is a pretty big ask."

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