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Home General News Mortgage Industry Articles Democrats Near Agreement on $789.5 Billion Stimulus
Democrats Near Agreement on $789.5 Billion Stimulus PDF Print E-mail
Written by By: Laura Litvan and Brian Faler, Bloomber   

Democratic House and Senate leaders are near agreement on a $789.5 billion economic stimulus plan, a leadership aide said today.

The tentative dollar amount, reached after late-night talks, is smaller than the $838 billion bill approved by the Senate yesterday and the $819 billion package passed by the House last month. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity. Lawmakers are trying to reconcile legislation passed by the two houses and get a final bill to President Barack Obama this week.

“The White House believes we are making good progress toward an agreement on a plan to put Americans back to work,” administration spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

House Education Committee Chairman George Miller of California said “it appears” as though some funds for school rehabilitation are being restored to the stimulus. “It’s not a done deal,” said the congressman, who said he’s been getting “a lot of calls” from lawmakers demanding the money be restored.

At least three senators whose votes are critical to the plan’s approval are insisting that the final bill must be kept below $800 billion.

The three senators’ demands may prove pivotal because the Senate plancleared a 60-vote procedural threshold this week by a single vote. Democrats say they expect a compromise plan would also need 60 votes.

Ben Nelson

The compromise proposal “has to be under $800 billion,” said Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat. “It’s not just me who believes that; there are some Democrats who believe that and our colleagues from the Republican side as well.”

He said he voted for the $838 billion package only to get it off the Senate floor and into negotiations with the House.

A spokeswoman for Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of three Republicans who supported the stimulus bill in the chamber, yesterday said she agrees with Nelson. Another Republican backing the Senate bill, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, said on MSNBC that he wants the compromise plan to total less than $800 billion.

Earlier today, Senator Dick Durbin, the chamber’s second- ranking Democrat said on the Senate floor that “last-minute negotiations are under way” and “I hope we can get it done, even done today.”

Yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said congressional negotiators may not be able to come to an agreement by the end of the week.

Met With Obama

“I don’t know what Steny’s talking about,” said Senate Majority LeaderHarry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. Reid also said he and House SpeakerNancy Pelosi met yesterday with Obama to discuss a compromise. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Budget Director Peter Orszag met behind closed doors with Democrats about a plan.

Reid said lawmakers wouldn’t leave for their scheduled recess next week without completing work on the bill. “We need to get this done as fast as we can,” said Reid.

The competing House and Senate measures differ on several provisions, including the parameters of the income group targeted for a payroll tax cut, whether to provide sizable tax cuts to the housing and auto industries, how much aid to provide state governments and how much to spend building schools.

A group of more than a dozen senators that included Nelson, Collins and Specter forced Democratic leaders to strip more than $100 billion from a previous draft of the bill before allowing it to come to a vote. Pelosi said last week she opposed many of the cuts agreed to in the Senate and would seek to have them restored.

‘Threaten Its Passage’

Nelson countered yesterday that “material changes to the bill threaten its passage when it comes back” to the Senate after the compromise talks. Asked about the opposition among House Democrats to the Senate’s spending cuts, Nelson said, “If they can come over here and find three other Republicans” to vote for the legislation, then “they can probably put anything in it they like.”

Pelosi indicated yesterday the stimulus plan may end up smaller than what either chamber approved. “Usually you go to conference and split the difference between the two houses,” she said. “That may not be case here.”

One of the casualties in the compromise talks may be an $11 billion amendment approved by the Senate last week that would temporarily allow new car buyers to write off from their income taxes the interest on their loans and the local sales taxes on their purchase. Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who sponsored the amendment, said yesterday she is concerned the proposal may be deleted from the final bill.

‘It Is the Politics’

“The problem now is not the idea, but it is the politics,” Mikulski said on the Senate floor. “Let’s get the White House on our side. Let’s get the House of Representatives on this side. Flood not the streets, but flood them with phone calls.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, questioned the proposal. He said “all of that seems pretty bizarre to me” and “very expensive.”

Obama, 47, has used high-profile appearances this week to prod lawmakers to quickly complete their work on a stimulus bill. He continued that effort yesterday during a campaign-style stop in Fort Myers, Florida.

“Creating jobs and turning this economy around is a mission that transcends party,” Obama said at a town-hall meeting. “When the town is burning, you don’t check party labels. Everybody needs to grab a hose.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, attacked the stimulus plan as fundamentally flawed, saying he doubted it would do much to boost the economy.

“We’re taking an enormous risk, an enormous risk, with other people’s money,” McConnell said before yesterday’s passage of the Senate bill. “The president was right to call for a stimulus, but this bill misses the mark. It’s full of waste, we have no assurance it will create jobs or revive the economy. The only thing we know for sure is that it increases our debt.”