WASHINGTON – Republicans suggested overhauling the Senate's stimulus proposal because they said it doesn't pump enough into the private sector through tax cuts but allows Democrats to go on a spending spree unlikely to jolt the economy.
"When I say start from scratch, what I mean is that the basic approach of this bill, we believe, is wrong," said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican. He added that he was seeing an erosion of support for the bill.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he doubted the Senate would pass the bill, contending that Democrats as well as Republicans were uneasy with it. He renewed a Republican complaint that Democrats had not been as bipartisan in writing the bill as Obama had said he wanted.
"I think it may be time ... for the president to kind of get a hold of these Democrats in the Senate and the House, who have rather significant majorities, and shake them a little bit and say, 'Look, let's do this the right way,'" McConnell said. "I can't believe that the president isn't embarrassed about the products that have been produced so far."
Democrats defended their almost $819 billion version of President Barack Obama's stimulus plan, which is set for debate this week, and said they were open to considering changes by Republicans. But they said the unrelentingly bleak economic news demanded action.
"We cannot delay this," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democrats' No. 2 leader. "We can't engage in the old political rhetoric of saying, 'Well, maybe it could be a little bit better here and a little bit better there.' We've got to pull together."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed that more could be done in the area of housing, though he said tapping money in the separate financial bailout fund would be a more likely way to pay for mortgage relief.
Under Obama's plan, strained state budgets would receive a cash infusion, projects for roads and other infrastructure would be funded, and "green jobs" in the energy sector would be created. In its centerpiece tax cut, single workers would gain $500 and couples $1,000, even if they don't earn enough to owe federal income taxes.
Among the major changes Kyl said would be needed to gain Republican support in the Senate was the tax rebate for individuals and couples, which he criticized as going to too many people who didn't pay the tax to start with. He also criticized the bill for seeking to create nearly three dozen government programs and giving states far more money than they need.
Durbin argued that $1 out of every $3 in the bill goes to tax cuts and defended it as aimed at helping working families. While he contended that Democrats were "very open" to Republican proposals, he cited only what he said were calls for more money in job-creating public works projects, typically a Democratic priority.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., characterized the proposal as "a spending plan. It's not a stimulus plan. It's temporary, and it's wasteful."
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the bill was designed to help people who have been damaged in the economic meltdown as well as stimulate the economy.
"I never saw a tax cut fix a bridge. I never saw a tax cut give us more public transportation. The fact is, we need a mix," Frank said.
The House last week passed an $819 billion stimulus bill without any Republican support. After the Senate acts, lawmakers will need to compromise on the competing versions.
Durbin and Kyl appeared on "Fox News Sunday," DeMint and Frank were on ABC's "This Week," and McConnell and Schumer were on CBS' "Face the Nation."