US senators work furiously to get support for massive stimulus
Democratic leaders made last-ditch attempts
Thursday to convince the US Senate to support an unprecedented stimulus package
that President Barack Obama has said is critical to reviving the US economy, dpa reported.
Legislators said they expected a final vote on the package late Thursday, but the prospects of the bill's passage remained uncertain.
The Senate's version currently totals more than 900 billion dollars over two years - larger than any other stimulus in US history - but a number of proposed changes were expected to bring the cost down again before a final vote.
"The time for talk is over. The time for action is now," Obama said during an event at the US Energy Department. He argued that the "scale and scope" of the plan was necessary to pull the economy out of recession and challenged legislators "to rise to this moment."
The House of Representatives passed an 819-billion-dollar stimulus last week. If passed by the Senate, the two chambers would have to iron out differences between their two versions over the course of next week.
Many Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats remain unconvinced of its merits. More than a dozen moderate Republican and Democratic senators met in the morning to discuss changes that could bring more lawmakers on board.
Obama has said the bill will save or create at least 3 million jobs over the next two years, after the world's largest economy lost 2.6 million jobs in 2008. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office in an analysis Wednesday said it would create between 1.3 million to 3.9 million jobs by the end of 2010.
Obama invited a number of centrist Republicans and Democrats for one-on-one meetings at the White House on Wednesday, making what the senators described as a persuasive case that the package needed to be robust enough to have a real impact on the economy.
Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, said she was "convinced" by the president that a large package was necessary, but not as high as what the Senate was considering. Collins said she would be pushing for amendments through Thursday.
The debate centered largely on government spending programmes, which account for about two-thirds of the package and include investments in renewable energy, transportation and healthcare. About one third is comprised of tax cuts and incentives for car and home buyers in order to revive consumer spending.
Some senators said they expected about 100 billion dollars in spending to be removed from the package by the end of the day.
But that was still not enough for many, who warned the stimulus would raise the country's budget deficit over 10 per cent and was not targeted enough on programmes that would create jobs.
"It is not a stimulus bill. It is mostly a spending bill. It is not money we have. It is money we are borrowing," said Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. "I'm very disappointed by this. I had expected better."