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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (AP/Senate Television)

Senate showdown

Economy | Democrats show confidence in the economic stimulus plan coming to a vote, while Republicans remain skeptical

WASHINGTON-After a night of votes that broke largely along party lines, the Senate Friday morning continued its showdown on a $937 billion economic stimulus plan that President Obama said would be "inexcusable and irresponsible" not to pass.

A new report released Friday showing the nation's unemployment rate is at its highest since 1992 added new urgency to the Senate's debate on the stimulus.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said progress had been made overnight in closed-door sessions: "I think that we're going to be able to work something out. I feel very comfortable that we can do that. I'm confident we'll have something that we can vote on."

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Reid said a final vote on the package could come late Friday.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republicans seemed more skeptical, calling the package a disaster of unnecessary spending.

"Americans can't afford a $1 trillion mistake, however well-meaning the intent," McConnell said. "We will not support an aimless spending spree that masquerades as a stimulus."

After Reid and McConnell spoke, a parade of senators took to the Senate floor to echo the remarks of their respective party's leader. Democrats urged the need to act in the face of continued job losses that now stand at 3.6 million since the recession began, while Republicans said the country would soon regret the passage of a stimulus package that would add billions to the national debt.

"America's economic house is burning," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who caucuses with the Democrats. "This is a proposal that will pump money into the American economy and into the pockets of working Americans. There is nothing more important than doing that right now."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, said this stimulus package is simply not good legislation: "For the rest of our lifetimes, this $1.2 trillion debt . . . would be a burden on our children for years to come."

Meanwhile, off the Senate floor, a bipartisan group of almost 20 moderate senators are working to cut about $100 billion from the stimulus plan.

On a marathon Thursday night voting session, senators rejected more than a dozen amendments to the stimulus plan. The largely Republican amendments, which attempted to cut spending or broaden the tax package in the stimulus, were defeated on party-line votes.

Soon after it was announced Friday morning that employers eliminated 598,000 jobs in January, the most since 1974, President Obama said, "These numbers demand actions.

"It is inexcusable and irresponsible to get bogged down in distraction and delay while millions of Americans are being put out of work," the president continued. "That's 3.6 million Americans who wake up every day wondering how they are going to pay their bills, stay in their homes, and provide for their children. That's 3.6 million Americans who need our help."

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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