McConnell: GOP Backs Stimulus but Not as Drafted by Democrats

The Republican senator calls the current bill too bloated but says he backs Obama's stimulus aims.

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As the Senate prepares to begin debate on its $888 billion (and counting) version of the stimulus package, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is making an argument that might seem surprising after the House's party-line vote: The GOP supports President Obama's goals for the stimulus plan.

The problem, McConnell said in a press conference this morning, is that the Democratic leadership "has not gotten the memo" from the president.

Citing Obama's interview yesterday with NBC's Matt Lauer, in which the president said that the bill shouldn't have any provisions that "are not relevant to putting people back to work right now" and that Republican ideas should be represented, McConnell said, "I couldn't agree more."

"That's exactly where we need to end up," he said. "Of course, that's not where we are right now." He said he hoped that Obama would be able to "get through" to the Democratic leaders in their planned meeting at the White House tonight.

With the stimulus package passing in the House last week without a single Republican vote in support, Democrats have been hopeful that more bipartisanship might occur in the Senate. Some degree of aisle-crossing is also necessary, as 59 votes in favor of the bill will be needed to stop a filibuster, but there are only 56 Democrats.

Republicans, however, have consistently criticized the plan. In particular, they say, it should be refashioned to include more tax cuts, as well as provisions directly targeted at the housing market. And, they say, its size—close to the $1 trillion mark—is inexcusable in view of the country's deficit.

They'll be proposing amendments toward that end, said McConnell. One that's been expected would require the federal government to subsidize 4 percent mortgage rates. Another proposal would slash tax rates for those in the 15 and 10 percent tax brackets down to 10 and 5 percent, respectively.

Even so, McConnell said, adding Republican proposals to the bill without taking out other provisions to keep the overall size from swelling won't be enough for the GOP. In one attempt to sweeten the bill for Republicans, the Senate Finance Committee added $70 billion to the package's tax cuts portion.

"Making the measure bigger is not likely to make it more bipartisan," McConnell said.

Despite the GOP's strong reservations about the bill as it is, however, McConnell argued that the party isn't aiming to kill the legislation.

"Nobody that I know of is trying to keep a package from passing. We're not trying to prevent a package from passing. We're trying to reform it," McConnell said. "A package that most of our members would support would be dramatically different than the one that passed the House, and frankly, dramatically different than what we currently see out of the Finance Committee and the Appropriations Committee."

Senate debate on the bill begins today. It's still uncertain when the Senate will have a final vote on the bill.