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Stimulus Faces Knife

“He’s working in good faith, and we’re working with him in the hopes that we can get general support for the amendment on both sides,” Durbin said.

A Nelson spokesman said the amendment — which was still being negotiated as of press time — would cut more than $50 billion from the bill and would likely strike programs such as $61 million for State Department diplomatic and consular programs, $122 million for new and renovated Coast Guard polar ice breakers, and $198 million for Filipino veterans.

In addition to cutting billions from the measure, Democratic leaders also hope to attract some GOP support by adopting a proposal by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) to expand a tax credit for homebuyers. The Senate was expected to vote on the Isakson proposal Wednesday night.

Obama met with Nelson, Collins and a third moderate, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), on Wednesday to gauge what changes to the bill they were seeking.

“The White House is trying to lock in some of the moderate people and trying to find out what they want,” the senior Senate Democratic aide said.

Durbin said the president’s outreach to GOP Senators was crucial.

“The president is meeting with a number of Republicans, talking to them on the phone. He has a number of people that he’s talking to that are encouraging. I hope he’s being persuasive. And if he is, then we’ll pass this,” he said.

But most Republicans aren’t budging given their public relations success in tagging the bill as pork-laden and not stimulative.

In fact, conservative Republicans from both chambers on Wednesday urged Obama to call a “time out” on the measure and refocus it on tax cuts and the housing crisis — something that Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected.

“People are running scared in the Senate because this bill is stinking up the place,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said.

And Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) took issue with Obama’s contention that some of the tax cuts that Republicans are pushing helped get the country into the mess that it is now in. “He’s trying to blame our problems on a free people,” he said, arguing that it was bad government policies, not tax cuts, that sent the country into a recession.

Pelosi said that while she remains proud of the House-passed package, she’s willing to incorporate some Republican ideas into the final product. Still, the Speaker made clear the Democrats would only go so far.

“I reject and House Democrats have rejected the same warmed-over stew of bad, failed economic policies of the Bush administration that got us where we are today,” she said.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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