U.S. President Barack Obama is urging Congress to pass his economic stimulus bill and rejecting criticism from Republican lawmakers over its size and impact on the large national deficit.
Speaking before a group of House Democratic lawmakers Thursday at a retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia, Mr. Obama said he inherited a large deficit from his predecessor, George W. Bush, "wrapped in a big bow."
The president rejected Republican demands for large tax cuts in the bill, saying those methods caused the current economic crisis. He also mocked critics who denounced the package as nothing more than a spending bill.
Despite Mr. Obama's calls for Congress to quickly pass the measure, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed further debate on the bill until Friday.
Reid stopped the debate Thursday to give a group of moderate Democratic and Republican senators time to work out a plan to cut at least $100 billion from the package, which now stands at $937 billion.
Reid says if the group fails to reach some kind of agreement, he believes he has the 60 votes necessary to end debate and move it towards a final vote.
Senators approved several amendments to the bill Thursday, including spending on public works projects such as low-income housing and limits on executive pay for financial institutions that get federal bailout money.
New economic figures released Thursday by the government underscored the urgency of the stimulus plan. The number of people who filed unemployment claims last week rose to 626,000 people, the highest one week figure since October 1982.