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Senate Democrats Rally Around Obama's Tax Plan

Senate Democrats fell over themselves Friday to support President-elect Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan, one day after published reports revealed that some party members opposed the plan's proposed tax cuts.

"We're in extraordinary times, the most challenging since the Great Depression," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. "Anyone who blocks action -- they're either uninformed or uncaring."

On Thursday, Democratic senators emerged from a private meeting of the Senate Finance Committee criticizing business and individual tax cuts in Obama's stimulus-spending plan.

They were especially critical of a proposed $3,000 tax credit for companies that hire or retrain workers.

"I'd rather spend the money on the infrastructure, on direct investment, on energy conversion, on other kinds of things that much more directly, much more rapidly and much more certainly create a real job," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a member of the committee, called the tax credit "misdirected."

"If I'm a business person, it's unlikely if you give me a several-thousand-dollar credit that I'm going to hire people if I can't sell the products they're producing," Conrad said.

But the Democrats closed ranks overnight, and Boxer on Friday objected to a reporter's suggestion that there had been a disagreement in that meeting.

"You weren't in the room, sir," she said. "Please don't get the idea there's some breakdown."

Boxer said there was "agreement," citing three areas: aid to the states, tax cuts and infrastructure investment, but she acknowledged there could be changes to the stimulus plan, particularly in the area of renewable energy, one of her top causes.

Senate Democrats are scheduled for a follow-up meeting with Obama on Sunday, after a rare weekend session for votes on an unrelated matter. The Senate Finance Committee hopes to schedule a vote on the stimulus package in about two weeks, which would coincide with the week of Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration. Many senators still want to approve a package by mid-February.

"There's absolutely no disagreement on the need to act," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee.

He called Obama's plan "thoughtful" and said the president-elect is giving "direction and confidence" to the American people.

The cost of the economic rescue package Obama wants is expected to swell to $800 billion or more. About $300 billion of the package would be for tax cuts or refunds for individuals and businesses.