Stimulus Package: GOP Upset As It Moves To House

AP and Reuters

The House hopes to vote next week on the $825 billion package sought by President Barack Obama to help the struggling economy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday, as Republicans complained their proposals were not getting a fair hearing.

Republicans criticizing the package say the $550 billion devoted to government spending would add too much to the deficit and that greater emphasis should be given to tax cuts than the $275 billion now planned.

Tax cuts, they argue, would more quickly jolt the economy out of a yearlong recession. "The president asked for action swift and bold. That is what we are doing," Pelosi told reporters, adding that the bill would be considered on the House floor next week.

"The American people are in a desperate situation." Obama and Democrats want the package to be signed into law by mid-February but must overcome Republican criticism that it sets money for projects they said are inappropriate like the National Endowment for the Arts and restoring the Washington National Mall.

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But Republicans were upset that their proposals were not gaining any traction in the various committees considering the stimulus package and plan to raise their ideas with Obama next week when they meet.

The tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee was set to pass a part of the stimulus package on Thursday, a $304 billion package of middle-class tax breaks, incentives for renewable energy efforts, and help for unemployed families afford health insurance.

Tax Strategy

Republicans were expected to offer provisions to cut the lowest income tax rates, currently at 10 and 15 percent, to 5 and 10 percent while another would extend the 15 percent tax rate on dividends beyond 2010.

However, those changes were not expected to pass. "We will take our proposals directly to the president who has agreed to sit down with us and hear our case," said Rep. Dave Camp, the top Republican on the Ways and Means panel. "The American people know we cannot spend our way to prosperity."

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Pelosi expressed little concern about plans by House Republicans to meet with Obama next week to offer their own ideas for the package, noting that more communication between Congress and the White House was a sign of breaking the partisan gridlock that has gripped Washington for years.

House Minority Leader John Boehner said his colleagues will present Obama with very specific proposals to stimulate the economy. "My colleagues on the Republican side need to be heard in this process. Our plans offers fast-action tax relief, not slow moving, wasteful government spending," he said.

One area of common ground between some Republicans and Democrats was that they believed there was not enough money for infrastructure spending, with Rep. John Mica, a Republican from Florida, telling a hearing that the public works allocation could create more jobs if it were larger.

Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that Democrats should examine the proposals offered by Republicans but that the tax cuts included were likely the best they would see over the next two years. "I think from a Republican standpoint, this is probably the largest tax cut they're going to get to vote for over the next 24 months. They ought to grab it," the Maryland Democrat said.

Democrats, who control both the House and Senate, have said they want to present the legislation to Obama by mid-February, a timetable Pelosi said on Thursday she would stand by.

Obama plans to meet with leaders of both chambers Friday to discuss the stimulus package and other issues, she said. Senate committees are expected to begin their work on the package next week.

Internet Grants Approved

A key U.S. House committee approved about $3 billion in grants to expand Internet service Thursday, including a provision opposed by mobile phone companies that calls for increased Internet openness. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over most Internet and telecommunications issues, cleared the Democratic-written provisions for high-speed Internet and wireless expansion into rural and hard-to-serve areas.

A contentious part of the package requires Internet service providers that receive grant money to abide by so-called "open access" principles, which bars providers from discrimination of applications and content.

Economic Briefing

And it was announced today that President Barack Obama will be receiving a daily economic briefing from his senior advisers each day at his request, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"The president asked that this be added each day to his schedule as the country is in the midst of an economic crisis and an economic emergency," Gibbs said in his first White House briefing. "He felt it was important that each day he receive the most up-to-date information as it relates to the economy as we put together an economic reinvestment and recovery plan as well as future financial stability packages," he said.