Obey urges colleagues to quickly approve stimulus legislation

WASHINGTON -- The nation's capital began to regain a semblance of normalcy a day after Barack Obama's historic inauguration. Tourists filed out of the city. Roadblocks came down. And Congress got back to work after a brief pause for the inaugural...

WASHINGTON -- The nation's capital began to regain a semblance of normalcy a day after Barack Obama's historic inauguration. Tourists filed out of the city. Roadblocks came down. And Congress got back to work after a brief pause for the inaugural festivities.

At the top of the agenda: getting the economy moving again. As Obama embarks on the presidency, the nation will quickly judge his ability to steer the U.S. economy in the right direction. But he needs the help of Congress to get many of his economic priorities through.

Presiding over a key House committee hearing this week on an economic stimulus proposal, Rep. David Obey urged his colleagues to quickly approve the legislation.

"This is an extraordinary circumstance," said Obey, a Wausau Democrat who leads the House Appropriations Committee. "Every day we delay, 10,000 or more people lose their jobs."

But he also worried that the $825 billion stimulus plan might not do enough to save the economy from further collapse, saying it was "no silver bullet."


House Republicans argued that the plan was too costly and took the wrong approach to rebuilding the economy.

Rep. Paul Ryan, a Janesville Republican, cited an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that only a tiny fragment of the money in the plan would be spent in the next nine months.

"The rest of it is pork barrel spending that takes years to spend. Those kinds of ideas are not going to create jobs or save jobs," said Ryan, who argues that policy-makers should instead cut taxes and create incentives for employers to hire more workers.

On the other side of the Capitol, senators continued to plow through President Barack Obama's nominations for key spots on his cabinet. On Wednesday evening, the Senate confirmed Hillary Rodham Clinton as Obama's secretary of state.

Only two senators voted against confirmation: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and David Vitter (R-La.). Wisconsin Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold voted for Clinton's confirmation.

At a hearing on Timothy Geithner's confirmation, senators grilled Obama's pick for Treasury secretary on his failure to pay thousands of dollars in payroll taxes. Geithner told senators his tax gaffes were "careless mistakes." The Senate is expected to confirm his nomination perhaps as early as this week.

Republicans, however, continue to question the nomination of Eric Holder for attorney general, citing concerns about his role in the pardoning of fugitive financier Marc Rich in the final days of Bill Clinton's presidency. In delaying his confirmation Wednesday, Republicans said they also want more clarity on whether Holder might seek to prosecute Bush administration officials for their roles in the harsh interrogation tactics of terrorism suspects or Bush's warrantless domestic spying program.

The mood has changed


Outside the Capitol, a few stragglers took photos of the site where Obama had taken the oath of office just a day before. Small groups of tourists visited the new Capitol Visitors Center.

The mood on Capitol Hill had changed, said Kohl, Wisconsin's senior senator.

"There is a feeling we need to do a much better job of working together and dealing with the real problems our country faces," he said. "People are demanding and will demand more from their government here in Washington because of the problems our country faces."

Obama already has set the right tone for his presidency on his first day in office, Feingold said.

"I'm already very excited about some of the things being announced about the president returning us to the rule of law," he said, citing, among other things, Obama's announcement that he would close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "It's one of the most important things that can happen to prove that this really is a time of change both in terms of our own legal system but especially for our reputation in the world."

Ambitious plans

Obama can close the Guantanamo detention center by executive order. But he will have to work closely with Congress on a whole range of issues, including the government's response to the nation's ailing economy.

Congressional leaders say they would like to send their economic stimulus bill to Obama for his signature by President's Day.


"We want to engage in this right away because we have a very ambitious timeline in passing this act," said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Madison Democrat.

On Wednesday, House leaders also attempted to set certain parameters for the way the Obama administration will be able to use $350 billion in already-approved bailout funding, gaining approval by a vote of 260-166 for a measure that would cap the salary of executives at financial firms that receive any bailout money and set aside $40 billion to $100 billion of the money to help people avoid foreclosures. The legislation is likely to die in the Senate, but the Obama administration has said it plans to set many of the same limits on the money anyway.

While members of Congress returned to their normal schedules, many of their constituents in town for the inauguration began making their way back home.

-- Copyright © 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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