Obama Pitches Plan At Plant Hit By Layoffs

President Barack Obama is introduced by Caterpillar Chief Executive Officer Jim Owens as he visits the Caterpillar plant in East Peoria, Ill. on Feb. 12, 2009.
President Barack Obama on Thursday pitched his economic plan at a Caterpillar Inc. plant reeling from layoffs, his message blunted when the company's chairman warned that it may be up to a year before the multibillion-dollar program has a positive impact the economy.

The $790 billion stimulus plan 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.

"It is time for Congress to act, and I hope they act in a bipartisan fashion," Mr. 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."

Caterpillar has announced more than 22,000 layoffs because of sliding demand. Mr. 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 Mr. Obama 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.

Mr. Obama said his stimulus plan would unleash a wave of construction, innovation and job growth.

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

In Washington, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire abruptly withdrew his nomination to be Mr. Obama's commerce secretary. Gregg cited "irresolvable conflicts" with Mr. Obama's handling of the economic stimulus and the 2010 census.

CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid reports that Mr. Obama told a local Peoria newspaper that Gregg's withdrawal came as "something of a surprise" - one that overshadowed the President's selling the stimulus package at the Caterpillar plant.