Obama Heads to Capitol Hill for Stimulus Push

President Barack Obama heads to Capitol Hill this week, trying to turn back a growing Republican challenge to his $825 billion economic stimulus plan and keep alive what he hoped would be a bipartisan assault on the worst U.S. economic crisis in decades.

Maintaining the administration drumbeat in support of the massive spending package, Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday that Congress must approve the measure quickly because "there's no good (economic) news on the immediate horizon."

The president also was expected to issue more executive orders that in many cases reverse policy decisions made by the administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Late Sunday, Obama announced that his administration will allow California and other states to control their own more stringent car tailpipe emissions.

California and at least 13 other states wanted waivers from the national Clean Air Act so that they could impose stiffer air pollution standards than the federal government. The Bush administration denied the states that permission.

Last week's blitz of executive orders included Obama's declaration to close the Guantamo Bay military prison in Cuba within a year.

This week it appeared Obama would focus on the downward spiraling U.S. economy — the loss of 2.6 million jobs last year, manufacturing at a 28-year low and one in 10 homeowners at risk of losing their home.

Even Obama's economic experts forecast unemployment numbers that could climb above 10 percent before the recession ends.

While some Democratic allies complain that the stimulus package — already unprecedented in size — is too small, his biggest challenge comes from Republicans who believe the measure leans too heavily toward government spending and does too little to cut taxes.

Hoping to change their minds, Obama was to travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for private meetings with the Republican leadership.

While the Democrats hold sizable majorities in both the House and the Senate, Obama wants bipartisan support for a stimulus plan that will send the American budget deficit above $2 trillion in the first years of the new administration.

Sen. John McCain, Obama's opponent in the November presidential contest, said on Sunday he did not believe the stimulus package would do enough to create jobs.

"There have to be major rewrites if we want to stimulate the economy. ... As it stands now, I can't vote for it," McCain said on Fox television.

And John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, restated his criticism of the plan's configuration.

"I just think there's a lot of slow-moving government spending in this program that won't work," Boehner said. "We can't borrow and spend our way back to prosperity."

Boehner spoke on NBC television, shortly after Obama's chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, defended the spending plan on the same program.

Summers said Obama was trying to balance Republican objections with the desire of some fellow Democrats who want even more federal spending.

Summers said Americans must remember that while the stimulus was intended to jolt the economy toward recovery, "these problems weren't made in a day or a week or a month or even a year, and they're not going to get solved that fast."

"The next few months are, no question, going to be very, very difficult, and, and it may be longer, it may be longer than that," Summers said in one of the gloomier discussions of the crisis gripping the United States.

Compounding Biden's dismal assessment of the country's economic future, the vice president forecast that the American people could expect an increase in U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan.

Obama pledged during his campaign to increase American forces in Afghanistan in an attempt to reverse gains made by the Taliban. He also said American troops would move against al-Qaida targets inside neighboring Pakistan if Islamabad was unwilling or unable to act.

"I hate to say it but, yes, I do think there will be an uptick (in U.S. casualties)," Biden said. He declined all comment on alleged cross-border attacks.

But the American economic crisis dominated the country's political discussions Sunday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she could envision even more money for the financial sector — beyond the $700 billion Congress already appropriated — so long as the government, on behalf of taxpayers, takes an ownership stake in banks that receive the money.

She mentioned no dollar figure and refused to use the term "nationalization" when referring to additional rescue dollars.

Already $350 billion has gone out to banks and financial institutions under the just-departed Bush administration, and the second $350 billion installment is now in the hands of the Obama administration, which is promising tougher standards on how the money is used.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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