The U.S. Senate has begun consideration of economic recovery legislation, as minority Republicans continue to call for changes to a measure President Barack Obama said is critical to address the U.S. economic crisis. Republicans are renewing their opposition to the legislation in its current form.
Before the Senate took up its version, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that Republicans believe several changes are needed to the legislation as it emerged from a House of Representatives vote last week.
That bill received no support from House Republicans who voiced concern about the effectiveness of a timeline that would distribute about $820 billion to various sectors of the economy. A Senate version now stands at about $890 billion.
Senator McConnell outlined two areas Republicans are focusing on.
"I have indicated where we think it ought to go. Fix housing first, tax relief for middle and lower income taxpayers to put money back in their pockets immediatel," he said.
Asked whether Republicans are prepared to have the cost of the measure increase to accommodate those changes, McConnell said doing so would not make it more appealing.
Later, statements on the Senate floor by Democrats and Republicans reflected divisions over the bill.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Democrat Max Baucus stressed the need for urgent action. Thad Cochran, ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, questioned how far it would go toward stimulating the economy.
BAUCUS: "The package that we are considering this week is our best effort to reach a consensus on the economic recovery bill that can pass the Senate and the House quickly. The nation clearly demands action, and action now."
COCHRAN: "There is a great deal of spending in this bill that is not immediately stimulative. The majority describes it as 'investments in our nation's future'. We have the responsibility to deliberate and consider these items carefully."
President Obama said on Monday that differences over the economic bill are "very modest" and should not delay passage of the measure.
"With very few exceptions, I heard from Republicans and Democrats [about] the need for action, and swift action. And that's what we have tried to do in moving this package forward," he said.
The president and majority Democrats are aiming for mid-February passage of the measure, which would reduce taxes for millions of Americans, expand spending for numerous domestic programs, and provide billions of dollars to U.S. states suffering the sharp effects economic recession.
The president was joined at a White House event on Monday by the Republican governor of Vermont, Jim Douglas, who underscored the importance of the legislation.
"This is a serious matter. It's the kind of recession that is deep, that appears to be long. And the only way we're going to get the country moving again is a partnership between the states and the federal government," said Douglas.
Senator McConnell said legislation Republicans could find acceptable would have to be "dramatically different" from the House-passed measure or the version now being considered on the Senate floor.
He declined to say what procedural tactics Republicans might employ or what amendments they might offer, as the bill heads toward a possible vote by the end of the week.
Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats will set no limitations on amendments during the debate.