Divided Senate begins debate on US stimulus package
The US Senate was to begin debate Monday on
an unprecedented 888-billion-dollar spending package designed to help pull the
US out of recession, but lawmakers remain divided over both its size and scope,
President Barack Obama, who has staked his economic recovery hopes on the stimulus' passage, urged legislators to iron out their differences swiftly. He planned to meet with Democratic congressional leaders later Monday.
"There are still some differences between Democrats and Republicans ... But what we can't do is let very modest differences get in the way of the overall package moving forward quickly," Obama said after a White House meeting with Vermont Governor Jim Douglas about the stimulus.
But opposition Republicans and some fiscally conservative Democrats still oppose the legislation, which they say spends too much money on non-essential programmes that will only balloon the country's already souring federal deficit and create few jobs.
"We've been throwing figures around like it was paper money," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Obama hopes the package, a mixture of tax cuts and government spending programmes, will revive consumer spending and create or save at least 3 million jobs in the US in the next two years, after 2.6 million jobs were lost over the course of 2008. The US has been in recession since December 2007.
The US House of Representatives approved its own 819-billion- dollar aid package last week in a vote along party lines, but passage in the 100-member Senate will require at least some Republican support. Legislation typically needs at least 60 votes to overcome procedural measures that opponents can use to block bills.
The Senate version is larger that the House's bill, primarily because of an added provision that lowers middle-class taxes. McConnell said Republican senators were keeping an "open mind" but would be pushing for significant changes in the coming days. A vote could take place by Friday.
If it passes the Senate, lawmakers from both legislative chambers will have to meet to resolve differences between their two versions. Democratic leaders have promised to get a final stimulus bill approved and ready for Obama's signature by the end of next week.