Democratic lawmakers are pressing ahead toward a vote next week on a massive economic recovery package, one President Obama describes as critical in dealing with the U.S. economic crisis. Republicans are proposing an alternative plan, saying $825 billion in spending proposed by Democrats is too costly and will not be effective.
While there is no disagreement about the urgency in getting the legislation through Congress, minority Republicans make clear they will fight to have their proposals considered.
Speaking before a meeting on Friday with House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders, President Obama said he understands that acting quickly on such a large bill is difficult for both sides of the political aisle. "I recognize that there are still some differences around the table, and between the administration and members of Congress about particular details on the plan."
The Democratic measure is a combination of spending on transportation, health, energy and other projects, with $275 billion in tax cuts.
Republicans' alternative proposal focuses on reducing individual and small business tax rates, with a requirement that taxes not be raised in the future to pay for current spending.
After what he called a productive meeting with the president, Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner underscored his concerns. "You can go through a whole host of issues in this bill that have nothing to do with growing jobs in America, and helping people keep their jobs."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sounded a somewhat softer tone on the Republican stance in both houses. "The administration strikes me as open to our suggestions, and we made a number of them, both Senate and House [Republican] leadership."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded this way to Republican criticisms that Democrats are trying to rush the measure without sufficient minority input. "[While] we are in full partnership and support of reaching out to Republicans, the American people are in a desperate situation. They expect and demand action to relieve the economic crisis that they are experiencing in their own families."
Democratic Representative Charles Rangel, whose Ways and Means Committee was one of several readying the legislation, said it could come to the House floor on Wednesday. He likened the economy to a critically ill patient awaiting treatment. "When you [the U.S. economy] are in intensive care, you don't know when you're going to recuperate, but you know that you need attention," he said.
To what extent present levels of bipartisanship can be maintained will be clearer next week when House Republicans meet on their own with President Obama.
The economic bill is likely to pass easily in the House of Representatives, where Democrats hold a 256 to 178 seat majority.
In the Senate, where 60 votes are required to overcome procedural obstacles, Democrats will be looking to gather enough Republican votes to ensure a strong bipartisan vote of approval.
Differences between House and Senate-passed versions will have to be resolved by lawmakers in conference. Democrats and Republicans want to get legislation to President Obama for signature by the middle of next month.