WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama fired the sharpest warning of his young presidency at Republicans who are mustered against his$ 900-billion stimulus plan for the plunging economy.
Obama has sought to build bipartisan support for his massive dose of tax cuts and infrastructure spending designed to waken dormant consumption and create between 3 million and 4 million jobs.
But he showed the first sign of impatience Wednesday, bringing up twice what Democrats say are discredited economic policies of president George W. Bush, which they contend helped cause the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.
"In the past two days, I have heard criticisms of this plan that, frankly, echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis in the first place," Obama said, before signing a children's health insurance bill.
He took aim at the "notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems" and warned against the idea that the economic crisis could be tackled with "half steps, and piecemeal measures and tinkering around the edges."
Obama also faulted unnamed opponents he said believe "that we can ignore the fundamental challenges like the high cost of healthcare and still expect our economy and country to thrive."
"I reject these theories, and by the way so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change," the president said, in his most edgy partisan language in his two weeks in office.
Republicans, using the stimulus showdown to test the new president's power, did not give Obama a single vote when the package passed the House last week and complain it lacks sufficient tax cuts and is too expensive.
Obama's defeated presidential election foe, Sen. John McCain, welcomed the president's bipartisan attitude but complained it had not produced substantive negotiations on the makeup of the bill.
"No bill is better than this bill, because it increases the deficit by over a trillion dollars," Senator McCain told CBS News, a day after Democratic leaders sent signals that they did not yet have the votes to pass the measure.
"It has so many programs in it that create no jobs whatsoever and it has no provisions to put us on the path of a balanced budget, once our economy has recovered."
While sending public warnings to Republicans, Obama also courted centrist senators from both parties, calling three to the White House to discuss what Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson said were at least $50 billion in cuts.
The president "realizes that some of the pieces of this package need to come out for a variety of reasons because it will take that sort of scrubbing to get the votes on board to pass the package," Nelson said.
Two Republican senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, also met Obama to discuss proposed changes to the bill.
"He recognizes that some of the provisions that were added in the House and some in the Senate as well do not belong in the bill," Collins said.
Moderates on both sides are concerned that the bill contains spending on projects that might be worthy, but are unlikely to stimulate demand: Collins, for example, complained about $8 billion inserted in the measure to upgrage State Department technology.
In the Senate itself, a long sheaf of amendments to the bill were set to come up for a vote, including McCain's attempt to strike out a "Buy American" clause, which U.S. trade partners have branded as protectionist.
"I've got an amendment to try to kill it," McCain told AFP shortly after introducing the measure.
The EU and Canada fiercely have attacked the "Buy American" clause, warning it could start a global trade war.
The measure bars the use of any of the more than 900 billion dollars being debated in the Senate to buy steel, iron or other manufactured goods from abroad for infrastructure construction projects.
A narrower version of the clause, popular in states suffering gravely from the economic downturn, was included in the House bill.
Congressional sources said Wednesday it was still too early to say whether the stimulus plan would come up for a vote by the weekend.
Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate have warned that the congressional recess due to start at the end of next week will not happen unless a joint bill is agreed and sent to Obama.
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