WASHINGTON — Mayors from across the country met with White House officials on Wednesday as part of the Obama administration's ongoing blitz to ramp up support for a $900 billion stimulus package that's now being debated in the Senate.
Many of the proposed stimulus measures include spending in cities that submitted proposals to the administration, and Obama and Democratic leaders have asked local leaders to underscore the need for the stimulus package, which is facing growing Republican opposition.
As part of the push, the White House distributed a list Wednesday of how the projects would benefit each state, and mayors scheduled meetings with their congressional representatives to push for the program.
"We had the New Deal and the Fair Deal and now we have the Big Deal," said Jim Newberry, the mayor of Lexington, Ky., and one of those who met with Obama officials. "The hole is getting deeper and it will take more effort for us to get out of it."
Newberry also met Tuesday with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whose support could be critical for any stimulus plan that emerges from the Senate.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that some of the political gymnastics that seems to be tying up things in Washington won't slow things down," Newberry said. "The package needs to come as soon as possible to get the economy rolling again."
Lexington, for example, submitted a $556 million wish list of infrastructure projects to be funded through a proposed federal stimulus plan for states and cities. That list included a new downtown transit center, a renovation to the county courthouse, a public safety operations center and an expansion of a wastewater treatment plant.
The Obama administration's criteria for such projects were that they quickly create jobs, improve infrastructure of use to the private sector, produce lasting economic and environmental benefits and could be completed within two years.
McConnell and fellow Republicans are circulating a provision they say will help the average family see a monthly mortgage payment drop by $466 a month, or $5,600 a year.
McConnell also wants to cut income tax rates. Currently, according to GOP data, married couples pay a 10 percent tax on income up to $16,700. Republicans would cut that rate to 5 percent, meaning a savings of about $500 per couple.
Republicans are also critical of the package's ballooning costs which mushroomed this week after money was added for medical research and increase tax incentives for people who buy cars.
"At some point, we're going to have to learn to say no. If we're going to help the economy, we need to get a hold of this bill," McConnell said. "And making it bigger isn't the answer."
The push to have mayors lobby for the package is part of a concerted Obama effort to pit Republican opposition in the Senate against local interests.
On Tuesday, Obama called three Republican governors — Charlie Crist of Florida, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, and M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut — to thank them for their support.
On Wednesday, the White House briefed reporters from local newspapers on the projected impact of the bill, providing them with a list that detailed by state how many jobs would be created or saved, how many workers would benefit from proposed tax breaks and how many schools would be renovated under the current proposal.
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