Senators from both parties agreed that Congress should do something to stimulate the economy. But Democratic senators emerging from a private meeting of the Senate Finance Committee criticized business and individual tax cuts in Obama's stimulus plan.
They were especially critical of a proposed $3,000 tax credit for companies that hire or retrain workers.
"If I'm a business person, it's unlikely if you give me a several-thousand-dollar credit that I'm going to hire people if I can't sell the products they're producing," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a member of the committee.
"That to me is just misdirected," Conrad said.
Sen John Kerry, D-Mass., said, "I'd rather spend the money on the infrastructure, on direct investment, on energy conversion, on other kinds of things that much more directly, much more rapidly and much more certainly create a real job."
The cost of the economic rescue package Obama wants is expected to swell to $800 billion or more. About $300 billion of Obama's package would be for tax cuts or refunds for individuals and businesses.
One tax provision would provide a $500 tax cut for most workers and $1,000 for couples, at a cost of about $140 billion to $150 billion over two years. The individual tax cuts may be awarded through withholding less from worker paychecks, effectively making them about $10 to $20 larger each week.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he doubted that a modest tax cut would change consumers' spending habits.
"In tough times people don't respond all that well to marginal changes, such as a small amount of money added per paycheck," Wyden said.
Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he hopes to schedule a committee vote on the stimulus package in about two weeks, which would coincide with the week of Obama's inauguration. Many senators still hope to approve a package by mid-February.
There is "general agreement that because of the recession we've got to move, we've got to move quickly, very quickly," Baucus said.
He added that it is too early to pass judgment on any aspect of Obama's plan.
"This is an early part of this whole process. A lot of preliminary questions are going to be asked," Baucus said.