Senate Democrats Question Aspects of Stimulus Plan

Posted January 8, 2009 at 5:16pm

Senate Democrats gave President-elect Barack Obama’s economic team an earful Thursday afternoon on the deficiencies they perceive in the new administration’s nearly $1 trillion economic stimulus plan.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said incoming National Economic Council chief Lawrence Summers and other economic team members “got the message” that there was significant concern among Democrats that the plan does not invest enough money in energy innovation, road and bridge projects, and housing.

“The emphasis needs to be on investment, with energy leading the way,” Conrad said after exiting a special caucus meeting at which Democrats heard about the Obama plan.

He added that Obama’s proposed $300 billion in tax incentives were “misdirected” and appeared to be “going to things that will have limited effectiveness.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also expressed dissatisfaction with the Obama team’s plan.

“I’m a little concerned the way Mr. Summers and others are going on this,” Harkin said. “To me it still looks like … more of this trickle-down. If we just put it in at the top it’s going to trickle down. A number of people in there have said we’ve go to have programs that actually create jobs and put people to work.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined to comment on the specifics of the meeting but said he thinks Summers “learned a lot about how we feel. … Some felt there was not enough here and too much there.”

Reid said he is pleased with the progress of the stimulus talks between Congress and the Obama officials, and made clear that, “We want to do everything we can to cooperate with the Obama administration” and GOP Senators.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) added that he thinks a bill can be completed before Senators leave for the Presidents Day recess Feb. 13, and he said the disagreements between the Obama team and Senate Democrats were just part of the process.

“We’ve got to do this right,” Baucus said. “So there’s a very intense effort to get this right.”

Because of Democratic Senators’ interest in the topic, Reid has scheduled another meeting of the caucus and Summers on Sunday after a procedural vote on a public lands bill.

David M. Drucker contributed to this report.