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Push stimulus forth, says president

Associated Press / February 3, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama said yesterday that "very modest differences" over a massive package to revive the economy should not delay its swift passage, a fresh appeal to Congress as the Senate took up its $885 billion version.

Obama teamed up with Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, the Republican vice chairman of the National Governors Association, as he sought bipartisan backing for the stimulus legislation. An $819 billion version passed the House last week, without a single Republican vote.

"If I were writing it, it might look a little different," said Douglas, who sat at Obama's side in the Oval Office. "But the essence of a recovery package is essential to get the nation's economy moving."

Douglas is among several GOP governors who are breaking with their Republican colleagues in Congress, who argue the plan is too expensive and doesn't include enough tax cuts.

Obama said that those who really know what is needed around the country - governors - have been asking for help from Washington since he was elected in November.

The president said he was taking full responsibility for rescuing the US economy, in its worst downturn in 80 years.

"If I don't have this done in three years then there's going to be a one-term proposition," Obama, already looking ahead to the 2012 presidential election, said in an interview taped Sunday and aired yesterday on NBC's "Today" show.

Obama's appeal came as Senate Republicans pressed for more mortgage relief and additional tax cuts and Democrats came under pressure to reduce spending in the bill.

Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate, said that Republicans would offer a plan to have the government step in to reduce mortgage rates to the 4 percent range, and to cut taxes for those in the two lowest tax brackets.

Republicans said their goal was to change the bill, not to block it. "Nobody that I know of is trying to keep a package from passing," McConnell told reporters.

At the same time, Democrats have already dropped two questionable items in the plan - $75 million for smoking cessation programs and $400 million to slow the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases - from the most recent draft of the measure.

Democrats were prepared to offer amendments to add $20 billion to $30 billion more for infrastructure programs such as roads, bridges, mass transit, and water projects, said Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

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