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GOP Wants More Tax Cuts For Bipartisan Stimulus

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Senate is braced for a showdown next week. The Democrats are in charge, and they plan to push through an economic stimulus package worth nearly $900 billion. The House passed a slightly smaller measure this week without a single vote from Republicans, and that was after President Obama personally lobbied GOP lawmakers. The question now is, how many Senate Republicans will heed his call? NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA: If the Senate's Democratic leaders were startled that not one House Republican voted for the stimulus, they weren't showing it. Here's majority leader Harry Reid speaking to reporters yesterday at the Capitol.

(Soundbite of press conference, January 29, 2009)

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): I think that the president was right in saying he hoped there would be broad bipartisan support. I still hope that we are going to have broad bipartisan support for this bill in the Senate.

WELNA: But at another Capitol briefing, 10 GOP senators showed up and said they had no intention to vote for the stimulus as it stands now, and Alabama's Jeff Sessions played down any prospect of the bill being amended.

(Soundbite of press conference, January 29, 2009)

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): There's very little likelihood that we'll have a substantial change, and so we need to resist this package with every strength that we have. Indeed, the financial soul of this country may be at stake.

WELNA: Republicans like Sessions prefer a stimulus bill with far more tax cuts. Currently, nearly two-thirds of the Senate's version goes to federal spending. And that, said South Dakota's John Thune, is why he's voting against the massive bill.

Senator JOHN THUNE (Republican, South Dakota): It represents, in my view, business as usual in Washington. There's something in there for literally every interest. It's a pent-up wish list of spending programs that many around here have wanted to implement for a really long time.

WELNA: Such spending has strong backing, though, from unions and advocacy groups aligned with Democrats. A coalition known as Americans United for Change is targeting Republican senators in four states with TV ads, like this one aimed at the two GOP senators from Maine.

(Soundbite of Americans United for Change advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

President BARACK OBAMA: The first job of my administration is to put people back to work and get our economy moving again.

Unidentified Announcer: Tell Senators Collins and Snowe to support the Obama plan for jobs, not the failed policies of the past.

WELNA: Both of Maine's senators are moderates. As it happens, Olympia Snowe cast the only GOP vote in favor of the tax portion of the stimulus package in the Finance Committee this week, and four Republican senators did vote for the spending portion of the package in the Appropriations Committee. Snowe says she expects bipartisan backing in the full Senate for the bill.

Senator OLYMPIA SNOWE (Republican, Maine): I think it could be a very constructive process next week that builds a groundswell of bipartisan support. Hopefully that - that would be the case, because I think it's an important signal to the country at this moment in time and certainly, aftermath of an election that represented extraordinary change.

WELNA: The real question may be how many Senate Republicans it takes to have truly bipartisan support for the stimulus. Senate Republican whip Jon Kyl is his party's chief vote counter. He says Democrats would have to make major concessions to win the kind of bipartisan support envisioned by President Obama.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona; Senate Republican Whip): The president said he knew that it could be passed without Republican votes, but I think he said in the Senate he'd like to have - or like to see 80 votes. And in order to do that, obviously, you'll have to have key Republican concepts embedded in the legislation.

WELNA: Kyl says Democrats can try to cram a stimulus package through the Senate without GOP support, but Democrats alone, he adds, would then have to answer if Americans six months from now say they're no better off or in even worse shape than they're in now. Still, New York's Charles Schumer, who is part of the Senate Democratic leadership, says members of his party are not about to cave to Republicans to bring the vote total to 80.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): Is it a failure if it doesn't get 80 votes? Absolutely not. It's a failure if it fails, or if it doesn't put people to work, or doesn't get the economy going. That's the key here. And to totally eviscerate the package to get 80 votes and have a package that doesn't work? That's not where we're going to go.

WELNA: Schumer said hopefully we can get some Republican votes. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 30, 2009 at 11:35 AM EST
In some broadcasts, we followed this report with a story that incorrectly said that the Senate had passed a health care bill "that would cover more than 4 million uninsured children." The bill actually would cover an additional 4 million children. The correct total is 11 million.
David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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