Obama Pushes Stimulus In Hard-Hit Indiana

President Barack Obama holds a town hall style meeting about the economic stimulus package, Monday, Feb. 9, 2009, at Concord Community High School in Elkhart, Ind. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
President Barack Obama made a campaign-style pitch for his massive economic stimulus plan, traveling Monday to a hard-hit industrial city in hopes of winning support for a package that has become the first big test since taking office.

Mr. Obama participated in a town hall-style meeting in Elkhart, Indiana, and plans to hold another one Tuesday in Fort Myers, Florida, and one Thursday in Peoria, Illinois. All are cities that are suffering particularly hard times. He was to hold his first prime-time news conference on Monday night.

The public appearances come as Mr. Obama plunges into a difficult challenge early in his leadership, struggling to get a divided Congress to agree on his economic recovery package while pitching a new plan to ease loans to U.S. consumers and businesses.

"We can't afford to wait. We can't wait to see and hope for the best," Mr. Obama said in Elkhart. "We can't posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us in into this mess in the first place."

Elkhart has an unemployment rate of more than 15 percent - one of the highest in the nation, reports CBS News correspondent Chip Reid.

Mr. Obama explained what the plan will do for the people of Indiana, adds Reid.

"We'll create or save nearly 80,000 badly needed jobs for Indiana right here in the next couple of years," he said.

The Senate's $827 billion stimulus legislation passed on Tuesday. Harder work for Mr. Obama and the Democrats comes in the days ahead, when the House and Senate attempt to reconcile differences in their two versions.

Mr. Obama and Democratic Party leaders had hoped to have a bill ready for the president's signature by Feb. 16 - a deadline that grows more challenging by the day.

"You know, look, it's not perfect," the president conceded. "But it is the right size, it is the right scope. Broadly speaking, it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform the economy for the 21st century."

At the Treasury Department, Secretary Timothy Geithner delayed the unveiling of a new bailout framework for financial institutions from Monday to Tuesday to let the administration focus on the stimulus legislation.

Geithner is considering steps to broaden the use of a new lending facility at the Federal Reserve, provide government guarantees to help banks deal with their troubled assets, and continue direct infusion of capital into banks in exchange for securities and tougher accountability rules.

Amid the urgency created by nearly 600,000 new unemployed workers last month and new bank failures, Mr. Obama's economic prescriptions are coming under critical scrutiny by both Congress and the American public.

A new poll showed 67 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Obama's efforts on behalf of the stimulus plan, while a 31 percent give Republicans in Congress an approval rating. The Gallup poll also showed 51 percent of Americans agree that passing such a bill is critically important.

The House and Senate bills are about $7 billion apart in cost and overlap in numerous ways. But the Senate bill has a greater emphasis on tax cuts, while the House bill devotes more money to states, local governments and schools.

Two senators who played a leading role in shaping the $827 billion stimulus Senate bill said Monday it's the best that could be achieved under difficult circumstances and must be passed.

The pair - Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Ben Nelson - said they hope that differences between their version and the $827 billion House bill can be worked out in conference.

They spoke on the eve of a critical floor vote on the bill. The measure has attracted the support of Collins and two other Republicans in what supporters believe is enough strength to get it past a key procedural vote later Monday.

Appearing on NBC television, Collins conceded "the bill is not perfect." But she said the country is facing a crisis and doesn't need "a partisan divide."

Appearing with Collins on NBC, Evans said, "I think the things we have focused on will help turn this economy around."

The Senate bill is finely tuned. With only two or three Republicans on board, it is guaranteed, at most, 61 votes; the bill needs 60 votes in the 100-member body to advance and avoid procedural hurdles. Any change in the balance struck by the Senate bill could doom it.

The bank bailout proposal that Geithner will announce Tuesday also carries policy and political risks. Congress approved a $700 billion bailout for the financial sector last fall. But since then, lawmakers from both parties have been critical of how the Bush administration spent the first half of the money.

The Senate grudgingly agreed to give Obama access to the second half of the fund, but only after Obama promised to impose tougher conditions and to devote at least $50 billion of the fund to reducing mortgage foreclosures.

Officials said Geithner will not ask for more money for the program at this point. Instead, his plan is likely to include various approaches to loosening credit and helping banks deal with troubled, mortgage-backed assets.

While in Elkhart, Obama also answered a question from a woman about failed Cabinet picks who withdrew amid controversy over their tax returns.

Obama said he has taken responsibility for the perception that some people shouldn't have to play by the same rules as everyone else. Two nominees, including Tom Daschle, who was in line to be secretary of Health and Human Services, withdrew from consideration after revelations of delinquent taxes.

But he added that the mistakes were honest ones and said: "If you're not going to appoint anybody who's ever made a mistake in your life, then you're not going to have anybody taking your jobs."