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Obama Team Lobbies For Release Of Bailout Funds


It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Many in Congress are less than thrilled about the way money has been spent in the financial bailout package. We'll hear in a moment how the senator who runs the powerful banking committee wants the rest of those billions to be spent. Today, the House and the Senate are both expected to vote on measures dealing with the second half of that $700 billion rescue. President-elect Barack Obama has requested the money. Most Senate Democrats appear to be on board, but Senate Republicans are another story. Mr. Obama dispatched top aides to Capitol Hill last night to try to win them over. NPR's David Welna has more.

DAVID WELNA: GOP senators gathered behind closed doors with Larry Summers, who'll be Mr. Obama's chief White House economic advisor, and with Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Going into the meeting, South Dakota's John Thune said Summers and Emanuel had a pretty heavy lift to get Republicans onboard.

Senator JOHN THUNE (Republican, South Dakota): You know, I'm anxious to hear what they have to say, but certainly have a number of questions, and I think it's going to be - you know, they've got their work cut out for them to convince Republicans to be for this.

WELNA: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell emerged an hour later from the meeting, refusing to say whether he or any other Republicans had been won over. His main concern was how the troubled asset-relief program, or TARP, money might be spent.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): What we were looking for is that this second tranche of TARP is not going to be used to implement an industrial policy where the government basically decides winners and losers in the economy. We thought the $700 billion - not just 350 of it, but all of it - was designed to save the credit system.

WELNA: Like McConnell, Maine Republican Susan Collins did vote last fall for the first $350 billion in TARP funds. But she says she's now had it with writing blank checks.

Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): The money has to be contingent upon specific uses, detailed reporting and full transparency. Without that, this is a non-starter for Maine.

WELNA: Maine's other Republican senator, Olympia Snowe, says Mr. Obama called her yesterday and assured her that there will be full transparency in how his administration uses the TARP funds.

Senator OLYMPIA SNOWE (Republican, Maine): So, they're going to set a whole plan forthwith that they're going to, you know, lay it out and that they'll be transparency. And they'll put the plan and everything on the Web site, how the money's being used and so on, making sure that there is accountability. So, he's - obviously understands, receptive, and is responding to the issues that have concern to, obviously, everyone here in the Senate and the House, but also to the public at large.

WELNA: Snowe and other moderate Republicans say they may join Democrats in opposing the measure the Senate's voting on today. It's a resolution of disapproval that would block the release of the funds sought by Mr. Obama. Only 51 votes are needed to defeat that measure, which cannot be filibustered. With Roland Burris being sworn in today as the new junior senator from Illinois, Democrats will have 58 votes in their caucus. That's enough to make them confident the additional TARP funds will not be blocked. Even with the resolution's likely defeat in the Senate, the House still plans to vote on it if only to show a broader support for releasing the funds. House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank last night ridiculed House Republicans who oppose approving TARP money for the Obama administration because of how the Bush administration spent the first half of the bailout.

Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, Massachusetts): It's like the story of the mother who says to the teacher, my child is very sensitive. So, if he misbehaves, smack the kid next to him because that will impress him. Well, Obama is the kid next to the people who misbehaved. Don't smack him.

WELNA: The House today votes on legislation Frank's sponsoring that imposes accountability guidelines on future TARP outlays. It also calls for spending up to $100 billion on preventing home foreclosures. Frank says he's received assurances the Obama administration will follow those guidelines whether his bill becomes law or not. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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