WASHINGTON – Tested before taking power, President-elect Barack Obama appealed to Democrats in Congress on Tuesday to allow the use of an additional $350 billion in federal bailout funds and vowed to veto any move to block the money.
Obama backed up his plea with a promise to revise elements of the original bailout program that have drawn widespread criticism, pledging that billions will go toward helping homeowners facing foreclosure. Several Democrats said his commitments, to be made in writing, would be enough to prevent an embarrassing pre-inauguration drubbing for the president-elect when the Senate votes this week.
"This will be the first vote that President-elect Obama is asking us for. I'll be shocked and I'll be really disappointed if he doesn't get it," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent Democrat from Connecticut.
"This is a new beginning."
Behind closed doors, Obama also urged lawmakers to act quickly on the massive economic stimulus measure that his aides have been negotiating with congressional officials. The legislation will blend federal spending with tax cuts, and could reach $1 trillion in size, a measure of the nation's economic woes.
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate hope to have the legislation ready for Obama's signature by mid-February, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., held a late-afternoon meeting on it.
"We've made great progress, and we fully intend to meet our deadline," Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. She disclosed no details.
For Obama, attendance at the Democrats' weekly closed-door lunch was a homecoming of sorts, a return to the Capitol where he arrived as a newly elected senator only four years ago.
Reid called it a "lovefest," and said the president-elect was greeted with a five-minute ovation by Democrats happy to have the White House back after eight years of Republican rule.
Sen. Carl Levin said the session had a sentimental tone at...