Obama to appeal to public on rescue plan

President Barack Obama was Monday to take his case for a huge economic rescue plan directly to the US public, warning of a "catastrophe" without urgent action, as a pivotal vote loomed in the Senate.

Confronting the biggest challenge of his new presidency, Obama was returning to barnstorming campaign mode with a "town hall" meeting in rust-belt Indiana before his first White House news conference at the prime time of 8:00 pm (0100 GMT).

The president Saturday welcomed signs of a tentative deal by lawmakers on his stimulus plan as the Senate held a rare weekend session, following news that the US economy shed a staggering 598,000 jobs in January.

President Barack Obama was Monday to take his case for a huge economic rescue plan directly to the US public,2008..

"Because if we don't move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe," Obama said.

His Indiana visit, to be followed by a trip Tuesday to Florida, underscored Obama's determination to drum up support in the country at large for a stimulus package that looks set to top 800 billion dollars.

The Democratic-led Senate was Monday expected to decide on a key procedural motion to override Republican blocking tactics and put the package to a full vote, possibly Tuesday.

The Democrats control 58 votes in the Senate and need 60 to break through a Republican "filibuster." They appear to have the support of at least three Republican moderates -- Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter.

Despite the outlines of a compromise brokered with the help of the centrist Republicans, senior opposition senators were adamant that Obama's mix of infrastructure spending and tax cuts would prove a massive waste of money.

"We are going down a road to financial disaster. We'll pay dearly," Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate's banking committee, told CNN Sunday.

"Until we straighten out our banking system ... this economy is going to continue to tank," the Alabama senator added.

Administration officials said Sunday that just such a program to revive the stricken banking industry, and the housing market, would be presented Tuesday by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

National Economic Council director Larry Summers said the remaining 350 billion dollars of the so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) would prise open credit markets and include at least 50 billion dollars for housing.

Geithner's announcement of a new-look TARP was originally scheduled for Monday but the Treasury Department said it had been put back a day.

"The Senate votes on Monday, and economic officials administration-wide will be working and consulting with senators throughout the day," it said.

Whatever bill emerges from the Senate will have to be reconciled with an 820-billion-dollar version passed already by the Democratic-led House of Representatives, which devoted more to infrastructure and less to tax cuts.

Summers said the two versions of the stimulus package overlapped by "90 percent," and senior Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer predicted Congress would meet Obama's deadline of February 16 to have a bill ready for signature.

However, there could be ructions with the House leadership after Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly accused Republican senators of insisting on "very damaging" cuts to state education budgets from the planned stimulus.

Summers said those cuts in the compromise Senate bill, amounting to 40 billion dollars, would be resisted by Obama.

"There's no question what we've got to do is go after support for education," he said on ABC television.

"And there are huge problems facing state and local governments, and that could lead to a vicious cycle of layoffs, falling home values, lower property taxes, more layoffs. And we've got to prevent that."

Source AFP

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