Page last updated at 03:22 GMT, Saturday, 7 February 2009

US senators 'agree' economy bill

Senators and press on Capitol Hill
There have been a series of meetings to try to find a compromise position

Senators in Washington say they have reached agreement on a huge economic stimulus package designed to revitalise the US economy.

Senior Democrats say they will back a plan worth $780bn (534bn), instead of the $900bn sought by the president, in order to gain vital Republican support.

President Barack Obama denounced delays to the legislation, which mixes big spending plans and tax cuts.

The Senate is now due to hold a vote in the coming days.

President Obama has spoken of "an urgent and growing crisis" and said further Senate delays would be "inexcusable and irresponsible" and lead to "a catastrophe".

His comments came as the latest unemployment figures showed that the US had had its single worst month for job losses for 35 years.

Almost 600,000 people lost their jobs in January alone - figures Mr Obama described as devastating.

Rough water

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

Senator Susan Collins
The American people want us to work together - they don't want to see us dividing along partisan lines on the most serious crisis confronting our country
Senator Susan Collins

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

The new $780bn plan is composed of 42% tax cuts and 58% new government spending, Democratic Senator John Kerry said, according to Reuters news agency.

Other details of the slimmed-down package are sketchy, but one Democrat told Reuters that the homebuyer tax credit and car tax credit were still in the bill.

The Democrats need to persuade two Republicans to vote in favour of the bill for it to gain the necessary 60 Senate votes.

Although Democrats hold a 58-41 majority, 60 votes are required to ensure the Republicans cannot block the bill with a filibuster.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said that at least three or four Republicans would vote for the bill.

"The American people want us to work together," said Senator Susan Collins, a Republican who will vote in favour.

"They don't want to see us dividing along partisan lines on the most serious crisis confronting our country."

However, the Senate minority leader, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, said that "most of us are deeply sceptical that this will work".

And his Republican colleague, John McCain, defeated by Mr Obama in last year's presidential election said: "You can call it a lot of things but bipartisan isn't one of them."

'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.

Barack Obama (05/02/09)
Mr Obama said the situation "could not be more serious"
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."

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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