WASHINGTON -- Former presidential rival John McCain expressed disappointment on Friday that President Barack Obama has not negotiated with Republicans over a huge economic stimulus plan and said he is working on an alternative package.
Speaking to Reuters, Arizona Senator McCain said the alternative plan would include what he described as "more effective tax cuts, such as a payroll tax cut" and spending on projects aimed at immediately creating jobs.
"A group of us Republican senators are working on coming up with an alternative package that I would hope would have some elements to it that Americans would support," said McCain, who lost the November 4th election to Obama, a Democrat.
"One, we have to have an alternative and two, we still hope that the administration - although time is running out - that the administration will sit down and do some serious negotiating, which they have not done," he said.
An $819 billion stimulus plan passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday, with no votes from Republicans.
The Senate, also controlled by Democrats, begins debate next week on a bill that contains $342 billion in temporary tax breaks and more than $545 billion in spending to total about $887 billion.
McCain said it was helpful that the Democratic president visited Capitol Hill this week to talk to Republicans about the stimulus plan but that "some very rapid and dramatic outreach" is needed.
"I have to tell you I'm disappointed so far in the administration's lack of consultation or efforts to work with Republicans on the stimulus package," McCain said.
It is one thing to talk to Republicans, he said, but "it's entirely something else to bring them to the table and sit down and say, 'OK, how can we come up with a common outcome that we can agree on?' They haven't done that."
Obama would like some Senate Republicans to vote for the plan as a way of expressing bipartisan unity on the need for a massive stimulus package aimed at stopping the slide in the U.S. economy.
But Republicans complain that some of the spending items are more about furthering the Democrats' policy agenda than giving the economy a jump-start.
Obama said after his talks with the Republicans on Wednesday that he did not expect to get 100 percent agreement from them or even 50 percent, and that they had relayed a number of suggestions to him and he had described his own approach.
McCain said he is working with Republican colleagues Mel Martinez of Florida, John Thune of South Dakota, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and others on the alternative plan.
"Republicans are not reluctant to spend money or to appropriate money to try to get the country moving again economically. We just see this legislation as not achieving that goal," he said.
A payroll tax cut would be a way to immediately put extra cash into workers' pockets. But during earlier discussions about the idea, some senators questioned whether the cut would be significant enough to be beneficial.
New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer told reporters that he believed the tax package in the stimulus was already at the top of what was acceptable, but that more spending on infrastructure projects would likely be welcome.
Schumer also predicted that Senate Democrats would get the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles and approve the measure in the Senate, despite being far short of hopes by Obama to get wider support.
McCain, whom Obama has sought to woo as an ally in the Senate, also expressed concern about Obama's nominee to be deputy secretary of defense, former Raytheon Co lobbyist William Lynn.
Critics have said Lynn's nomination seemed to violate Obama's ban on hiring lobbyists.
McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee that is considering Lynn's nomination, said Lynn so far has not told him what defense issues he would recuse himself from as a result of his Raytheon ties.
"I'm not trying to hold up or block his nomination but I do want to get some answers and then I'll be glad to move forward when we get the answers. But I do need the answers," he said.
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