US President Barack Obama's Democratic Senate allies held out hopes of a compromise on Friday on passing his huge economic stimulus package, but warned they could also muscle the bill through.
"I would hope that we can complete this legislation on Saturday. I have hopes and I'm cautiously optimistic that we can do that," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told colleagues late on Thursday as they wrapped up a fourth day of debate.
Reid said he was awaiting the result of behind-the-scenes efforts by a group of moderate senators from both parties to forge a deal to win votes from Republicans, whose leaders say the bill is bloated and needs more tax cuts.
The lawmakers were reportedly eyeing cuts, thought to run anywhere from 30 billion dollars to 100 billion, to blunt Republican charges of wasteful spending, while doing so gingerly enough not to alienate Democrats.
"I know that everyone's trying in good faith to move this ball down the court, but I think we need tonight and some time tomorrow to see if we can do that," said the Nevada lawmaker, whose Democrats have 58 of the 100 Senate seats.
But he also warned that if "we find tomorrow that we're spinning our wheels," Reid would invoke a parliamentary procedure to cut off debate, which could set the stage for a vote on the package on Saturday or Sunday.
Obama, too, sharpened the tone of his criticisms of Republicans, saying his November election victory was a national rejection of the "false theories," "petty politics" and "phony arguments."
"This is a moment for leadership that matches the great test of our times," he said at a retreat of Democratic members of the House of Representatives in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Obama's attacks, his sharpest yet on Republicans since taking office on January 20th, came hours after Reid had said Democrats had rallied the 60 votes needed to overrun Republican opposition and thwart any parliamentary delaying tactics.
Senate passage would trigger a "conference" with the House of Representatives to craft a compromise between their rival bills, followed by a new round of voting in each chamber to send the final legislation to Obama -- who has set a mid-February deadline.
Throughout the day, the Democratic majority voted down amendments seeking significantly deeper tax cuts and ramped up their attacks on Republicans calling for major reductions in the spending measures in the bill.
"Those who are talking about cutting massive amounts of money out of this bill are also cutting massive amounts of jobs," said Reid's deputy, Senator Richard Durbin.
"We need a handful of Republican senators to make it happen. That's the reality of the numbers," Durbin said, an apparent reference to the 60-vote threshhold.
But "we'd rather pass a good bill with 65 votes than a bill that doesn't work with 80 votes," Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer warned after official data painted the bleakest job picture in at least 26 years.
Democrats piled pressure on Republicans to join them, a hard sell after not one Republican voted "aye" last week when the House of Representatives approved its version.
Republicans stuck to their guns, charging that the measure had too much spending and too few tax cuts and that they had been shut out of the legislative process.
"Now is the time to act -- but it's not the time to act foolishly," said Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Durbin also bluntly defended the Senate's votes late Wednesday to dilute but not remove a "Buy American" clause in a massive economic stimulus plan, saying US dollars should create US jobs.
The stimulus package "is really not to create jobs in the European Union," said Durbin.
Major US trading partners including Europe and Canada have denounced the measure, while some experts warn it could spark a trade war and others warn that it could affect any products with even one component that is not US-made.
The original clause barred stimulus spending on a project unless all of the iron, steel and manufactured goods involved are made in the United States.
The diluted language says the provision must be applied in keeping with US treaty obligations.