Obama putting finishing touch on economic plan

President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team is putting the finishing touches on an economic recovery plan that could run from $675 billion to $775 billion. Briefings for top congressional Democratic officials are likely this weekend or on Monday, a senior transition official said Friday. Obama is slated to meet Monday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in a session likely to focus on the economic recovery package.

Democrats had hoped to get the recovery plan set for Obama’s signature as close to Inauguration Day as possible, but it’s plain that the schedule is slipping.

When Congress convenes next week there will only be two weeks before the inauguration. The earliest the measure could reach the House floor is the week of Jan. 12, said a Pelosi spokesman, and even that is looking doubtful.

Republican leaders have demanded time to scrutinize the measure, a request that seems likely to be granted, at least in part. A separate Obama transition official promised "full transparency" in considering the plan.

The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, again protested Friday that his party and the public need time to scrutinize the Obama plan so that "every dollar needs to be spent wisely and not wasted in the rush to get it spent."

Congressional aides briefed on the measure say it’s likely to blend tax cuts of $500 to $1,000 for middle-class individuals and couples with about $200 billion to help revenue-starved states with their Medicaid programs and other operating costs.

A large portion of the measure will go toward infrastructure projects, blending old-fashioned brick and mortar programs like road and bridge repairs and water projects with new programs such as research and development on energy efficiency and an expensive rebuilding of the information technology system for health care.

Despite the proposal’s big price tag, a top lawmaker questioned whether the economic situation is so dire that Congress may not be able to pump money into the economy fast enough.

"My main worry is whether or not we can find enough places to responsibly put money so that you have a big enough effect to correct the problem or at least mitigate the problem," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis.

Obey said the focus is on getting taxpayer dollars into programs that can spend it quickly such as aid to states suffering massive budget gaps. He declined to go into other specifics but said the measure won’t lead to many permanent spending hikes.

"We are trying to focus on what can get out the fastest that will not be built into the budget baseline when the recession is over," Obey said.