Obama's pitch gets overshadowed

February 12, 2009 3:58:04 PM PST
President Barack Obama on Thursday rallied for bipartisan support for his economic plan, but his pitch was overshadowed by the stunning defection of a Republican he chose for his Cabinet. At the site of a company reeling with layoffs, Obama touted the $790 billion stimulus plan that is nearing votes in the House and Senate. If all stays on the course, the package of spending programs and tax relief will soon become law with Obama's signature.

The final details were being hashed out in Washington as Obama spoke in East Peoria at a Caterpillar Inc. plant, where he tried to keep the focus on better days ahead.

"It is time for Congress to act, and I hope they act in a bipartisan fashion," Obama said of the legislation, which drew little Republican support in the Senate and none in the House.

"But no matter how they act, when they do, when they finally pass our plan, I believe it will be a major step forward on our path to economic recovery," Obama said.

At the same time, the news was breaking in Washington that Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire abruptly withdrew his nomination to be Obama's commerce secretary. In explaining his unexpected decision, Gregg cited "irresolvable conflicts" with Obama's handling of the economic stimulus and the 2010 census.

It wasn't a "good fit," Gregg told reporters.

Still on site in East Peoria, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement saying Gregg has said earlier he would "support, embrace and move forward with the president's agenda." Gibbs said the administration regretted Gregg's "change of heart."

Obama made no mention of the Gregg matter in his brief comments.

He said his stimulus plan would unleash a wave of construction, innovation and job growth once he signed it into law.

"It's about giving people a way to make a living, support their families and live out their dreams," Obama said. "Americans aren't looking for a handout.They just want to work."

Caterpillar Inc. has announced more than 22,000 layoffs because of sliding demand. Obama said the company would rehire some of the workers when the economic bill becomes law and predicted other companies will have similar stories.

Shortly after the president spoke, Caterpillar Chairman Jim Owens said his company probably will have to lay off more employees before it starts thinking about rehiring. Owens said that even if a stimulus plan passes immediately, it won't have an effect on the economy until late this year or early 2010.

After hitting four states in four days this week, Obama will continue to visit with Americans next week to try to convince them that his economic stimulus plan will get the job done. The president is planning stops in Denver and Phoenix on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Another decision still being made by the White House is where, when and how Obama would sign the stimulus bill into law.

Obama aides want to make a big splash with the event, either by making it as high-profile as possible at the White House or staging a ceremony on the road.


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