| Issue 367
and Regional Affairs
Washington, February 7, 2009 – Senators in
Washington say they have reached agreement on a huge economic stimulus
package designed to revitalize the US economy.
Senior Democrats say they will back a plan worth $780bn (£534bn),
instead of the $900bn sought by the president, in order to gain vital
President Barack Obama has become angry with delays to the bill, which
mixes big spending plans and tax cuts.
Some Democrats are now saying the bill will go to a vote late on Friday.
"We're going to do it, if not tonight, in the next day or so," Senate
majority leader Harry Reid said, according to Reuters news agency.
President Obama has spoken of "an urgent and growing crisis".
His comments came as the latest unemployment figures showed that the US
had had its single worst month for job losses for 35 years.
Almost 600,000 people lost their jobs in January alone - figures Mr
Obama described as devastating.
President Obama is desperate to pass the package, the BBC's Adam Brookes
in Washington says.
This is the president's first big legislative initiative since he took
office, and it has hit some very rough water, our correspondent says.
The new $780bn plan is composed of 42% tax cuts and 58% new government
spending, Democratic Senator John Kerry said, according to Reuters news
Other details of the slimmed-down package are sketchy, but one Democrat
told Reuters that the homebuyer tax credit and car tax credit were still
in the bill.
The Democrats need to persuade two Republicans to vote in favor of the
bill for it to gain the necessary 60 Senate votes.
Although Democrats hold a 58-41 majority, 60 votes are required for the
measures to pass because the bill would raise the federal deficit.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said that at least three or
four Republicans would vote for the bill.
"The American people want us to work together," said Senator Susan
Collins, a Republican who will vote for the bill.
"They don't want to see us dividing along partisan lines on the most
serious crisis confronting our country."
Mr Obama described as "devastating" the news that nearly 600,000
Americans lost their jobs in January.
"The situation could not be more serious. These numbers demand action,"
Mr Obama's remarks came as he unveiled a new board of economic advisers,
chaired by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve.
"I created this board to enlist voices that come from beyond the echo
chamber of Washington DC," said Mr Obama, "and to ensure that no stone
is unturned as we work to put people back to work and to get our economy
About one-third of the bill is currently composed of tax relief, with
the rest devoted to spending on infrastructure projects, like roads and
bridges, new schools and alternative energy programmes.
Republicans and some centrist Democrats are keen to reduce the number of
spending commitments in the bill, and without their support the bill may
not have enough votes to pass in the Senate.
The House of Representatives approved its version of the package last
week, worth $825bn, without any Republican support.
If the Senate gives its approval to the bill, the two different versions
will then have to be reconciled in a joint House-Senate committee before
facing a final vote.
President Obama has said he wants the passage of the bill to be
completed by 16 February.