US senate to hold stimulus vote
Move to end debate comes as Obama holds "town hall" meeting to promote $827bn package.
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2009 00:34 GMT
The US unemployment rate is at its highest level in decades [GALLO/GETTY]

US senators have voted to end their debate on the Obama administration's $827bn economic stimulus package and hold a full vote on the bill.

Senators voted 61-36 on a procedural motion to end their debate on Tuesday after Barack Obama had warned that "paralysis" over the package would bring economic disaster to the US.

The move to call a vote came after a week of debate and wrangling between Democrats and Republicans over the details of the package.

Earlier on Monday, the US president held a "town hall" style meeting in Elkhart, Indiana, saying the plan was the right "size" and "scope" to combat the crisis.

"I can't tell you with 100 per cent certainty that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope," Obama said.

"But it is the right size, it is the right scope, broadly speaking it has the right priorities to create jobs, jumpstart this economy and transform this economy for the 21st century."

In depth
He said the plan would create or save three to four million jobs over the next two years, "but not just any jobs - jobs that meet the needs we've neglected for far too long and lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth".

The US leader took a number of questions at the meeting, which was reminiscent of many held during his successful presidential election campaign last year.

Obama's comments came as he prepared to hold his first White House press conference later on Monday.

Congressional wrangling

The US president is trying to drive the roughly $800bn package through congress before the end of the week.

Obama has already said that the US faces economic "catastrophe" if the package, which Republicans and some Democrats have complained is too large, is not passed by his imposed deadline of February 16.

Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington DC, said Obama was taking the case for the stimulus plan directly to the American people, to show he not only understands the depth of recession but also that he understands their concerns that they may not be able to take care of their families.

By making this "one-on-one" connection he is hoping these people will flood the phone lines at congress and persuade US legislators to pass the bill, she said.

The US House of Representatives has already passed one form of the bill, devoting more money to states, local governments and schools, while the senate has its own version which has a greater emphasis on tax cuts, following complaints from Republicans.

However, the two versions must be reconciled before both houses of congress can vote on - and approve - a final version.

Going to the people

On Monday, two senators who helped shape the senate bill said the plan was the best that could be achieved under the circumstances.

Obama has gone on the road to make
the case for his stimulus plan [AFP]
Susan Collins, a Republican, and Ben Evans, a Democrat, said they hoped that differences between the different versions could be smoothed over, with Collins saying the senate bill was "not perfect" but that it was time for US politicians to set aside the "partisan divide".

Elkhart, Indiana, where Obama held his "town hall" meeting on Monday, has been badly affected by the economic crisis, with its unemployment rate rising sharply from 4.7 per cent to 15.3 per cent over the last year.

Obama was set on Tuesday to travel to Fort Myers in Florida, also hit badly by the economic crisis, for a similar meeting to convince people of the plan's viability.

US employment figures released on Friday showed that almost 598,000 jobs were lost in January alone, increasing the US unemployment rate to 7.6 per cent, its highest level in decades.

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