Page last updated at 23:48 GMT, Friday, 6 February 2009

Obama denounces stimulus hold-up

Barack Obama: 'The situation could not be more serious'

US President Barack Obama has said the Senate's delay in passing his $900bn (616bn) economic stimulus package is "inexcusable and irresponsible".

He described the economic situation as "an urgent and growing crisis", which could become "a catastrophe" if the Senate failed to act.

The bill includes measures to cut taxes and invest in job creation.

Some Senate Democrats are now reported to be ready to compromise and back a plan worth only $780bn.

Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second most senior Democrat in the Senate, said they were "moving toward agreement", Reuters news agency reported.

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio came out of a meeting of Senate Democrats saying "we've got a deal".

The deal could pave the way for the plan to pass in a vote later on Friday, Democrat sources say.

President Obama is desperate to pass the package, the BBC's Adam Brookes in Washington says.

This is his first big legislative initiative since he took office, and it has hit some very rough water, our correspondent says.

'Echo chamber'

Mr Obama described as "devastating" the news that nearly 600,000 Americans lost their jobs in January.

"The situation could not be more serious. These numbers demand action," he said.

Mr Obama's remarks came as he unveiled a new board of economic advisers, chaired by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

"I created this board to enlist voices that come from beyond the echo chamber of Washington DC," said Mr Obama, "and to ensure that no stone is unturned as we work to put people back to work and to get our economy moving."

Tax cuts for working families: $247bn
Job-creating investments in infrastructure and science: $165bn
Job-creating investments in health: $153bn
Job-creating investments in education and training: $138bn
Job-creating investments for an energy independent America: $82bn
Job-creating investments tax cuts for small businesses: $21bn
Helping Americans hit hard by the economic crisis: $72bn
Source: Senate Appropriations Committee

The Senate is likely to vote on the stimulus bill later on Friday, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Moderate senators from both parties have been holding talks behind closed doors in an effort to find common ground on the package.

Senate leaders are desperate to get the package passed, but it is not clear whether they have the 60 votes they need, our correspondent says.

About one-third of the bill is currently composed of tax relief, with the rest devoted to spending on infrastructure projects, like roads and bridges, new schools and alternative energy programmes.

Republicans and some centrist Democrats are keen to reduce the number of spending commitments in the bill, and without their support the bill may not have enough votes to pass in the Senate.

The House of Representatives approved its version of the package last week, worth $825bn, without any Republican support.

If the Senate gives its approval to the bill, the two different versions will then have to be reconciled in a joint House-Senate committee before facing a final vote.

President Obama has said he wants the passage of the bill to be completed by 16 February.

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