$819B Makeover: Obama, Dems Promise Stimulus Changes

The goal is to win enough Republican support to get the plan passed in Senate.

February 1, 2009, 7:41 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2009— -- Call it an $819 billion redo.

Today, President Obama and Senate Democrats began anew the search for common ground.

"The important thing is getting the thing passed," Obama told NBC News. "And I've done extraordinary outreach, I think, to Republicans because they had some good ideas and I want to make sure we get those ideas incorporated."

As the Senate prepares to debate the stimulus on Monday, Democrats promised to accommodate some Republican demands in exchange for the votes they need to approve the president's landmark recovery plan.

"This will pass with Republican votes, because it's a good package, and because we will make some changes around the edges," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told CBS News.

Republicans say more than the edges need changing.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he expects to vote against the bill, adding, "The way it is today, absolutely."

Democrats are expected to try to persuade them by:

"Only 5 percent of this bill goes to roads and infrastructure, and you're trying to tell the American people this is an infrastructure bill?" Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos.

Democrats plan to offer an amendment offering $20 billion to $30 billion in infrastructure spending in the stimulus that, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers now has $100 billion in infrastructure spending.

Michigan has $20 billion in so-called "shovel-ready" projects that Gov. Jennifer Granholm told CNN "could have dirt flying within 180 days."

"I think we need to fix some highways and bridges," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., told ABC's Stephanopoulos. "I never saw a tax cut fix a bridge."

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation's infrastructure a grade of D, and says the United States needs to spend $2.2 trillion on infrastructure in the next five years.

"This is closing in on an emergency," the ASCE's Andy Herrmann said. "The stimulus that we're talking about for infrastructure really is -- it could be considered a down payment."

Republicans say Democrats are using the depressed economy to press for a resurgence of Depression-era liberal policies. And they want hundreds of billions of dollars in Democratic projects removed from the plan.

Coburn has a long list of items he calls wasteful in the current legislation, including $248 million for furniture for the new Department of Homeland Security Building, $25 million for salary increases at the FBI, and $75 million for smoking cessation.

Obama took advantage of the Super Bowl to engage in some bipartisanship, inviting Democrats and Republicans alike to join him at a party to watch the game in the White House residence. Among them was Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, one of the votes he would like to have on his side when the stimulus arrives on the Senate floor.

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