Vote expected Tuesday on stimulus after bipartisan deal

by

cnn.com

 

U.S. senators began debate on a massive economic-recovery package Friday evening, after a working coalition of Democrats and some Republicans reached a compromise that trimmed billions in spending from an earlier version.

Shortly before 11:30 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told his colleagues that debate on the plan would continue on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. Reid said a vote could come on Tuesday on the plan, which is championed by President Barack Obama as a tonic for a badly battered economy.

The movement came after days of private meetings between centrist Democrats and Republicans who felt the price tag on the Senate’s nearly $900 billion version of the package was too much.

“There is a winner tonight,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and one of the moderates whose support was crucial in building support for the plan. “It’s the American people and they deserve it.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration was pleased with the progress.

“On the day when we learned 3.6 million people have lost their jobs since this recession began, we are pleased the process is moving forward and we are closer to getting Americans a plan to create millions of jobs and get people back to work,” Gibbs said.

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio issued a statement on the deal Friday night, saying, “Ultimately this bill should be judged on whether it works, and 90 percent of a bad idea is still a bad idea.”

Boehner’s criticisms echoed those of the House-passed bill; he said the plan was focused on slow-moving and wasteful spending rather than immediate relief.

“This is not what the American people want; nor is it what the president called for at the start of the process,” he said. “Both of these massively flawed proposals should be scrapped in favor of a truly bipartisan plan that will help our economy preserve and create jobs. The American people want and deserve nothing less.”

The movement came after days of closed-door meetings between moderate Democrats and Republicans, who felt the price on the House’s $800 billion-plus version of the package was too high.

Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska and one of the chief negotiators of the plan, said senators had trimmed the plan to $827 billion in tax cuts and spending on infrastructure, housing and other programs that would create or save jobs.

“We trimmed the fat, fried the bacon and milked the sacred cows,” Nelson said as debate began.

Boehner’s criticisms echoed those of the House-passed bill; he said the plan was focused on slow-moving and wasteful spending rather than immediate relief.

“This is not what the American people want; nor is it what the president called for at the start of the process,” he said. “Both of these massively flawed proposals should be scrapped in favor of a truly bipartisan plan that will help our economy preserve and create jobs. The American people want and deserve nothing less.”

The movement came after days of closed-door meetings between moderate Democrats and Republicans, who felt the price on the House’s $800 billion-plus version of the package was too high.

Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska and one of the chief negotiators of the plan, said senators had trimmed the plan to $827 billion in tax cuts and spending on infrastructure, housing and other programs that would create or save jobs.

“We trimmed the fat, fried the bacon and milked the sacred cows,” Nelson said as debate began. Video Watch CNN analysts discuss what they think the stimulus deal means »

According to several senators, the revised version of the plan axed money for school construction and nearly $90 million for fighting pandemic flu, among other things.

Remaining in the plan are tax incentives for small businesses, a one-year fix of the unpopular alternative-minimum tax and tax-relief for low- and middle-income families, said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was the most prominent Republican negotiator in the bipartisan talks.

“Our country faces a grave economic crisis and the American people want us to work together,” she said. “They don’t want to see us dividing along partisan lines on the most serious crisis facing our country.”

The senate began considering amendments to the plan shortly before 10 p.m. Friday.

While Democrats appeared to believe they had enough Republican support to push the compromise plan through, most GOP members still were speaking against the plan, saying spending is not the answer to cure economic woes.

“This is not bipartisan,” said Sen. John McCain, who lost the 2008 election to Obama. “If this legislation is passed, it’ll be a very bad day for America.”

Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell compared the plan to President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” public works program, which he said did not help the nation out of the Great Depression.

“We’re talking about an extraordinarily large amount of money, and a crushing debt for our grandchildren,” said McConnell of Kentucky. “Now, if most Republicans were convinced that this would work, there might be a greater willingness to support it. But all the historical evidence suggests that it’s highly unlikely to work.”

Earlier Friday, Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich dropped out of the negotiations.

Voinovich concluded that his “philosophical” differences with the approach of Republican negotiators was too great, a Voinovich aide said. The senator said he could no longer support efforts at compromise or the final bill, the aide said.

Voinovich’s departure left four Republican senators involved in the negotiations: Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mel Martinez of Florida and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Democratic leaders will need at least two or three GOP votes to pass the bill.

When they expected a vote Friday night, Democratic sources said ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has been absent from the Senate since collapsing on Inauguration Day, would be present to help get the 60 votes needed to move the plan forward.

“I always need Sen. Kennedy,” Reid said when asked if the vote needed to be held off until the liberal icon could be present.

Democratic negotiators had wrestled Friday over billions of dollars in potential cuts to education spending as senators trimmed what was a $900 billion economic recovery plan.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois confirmed Democrats were in a tough debate over cutting what they saw as core programs. He singled out education as one of the largest areas of cuts — and one of the hardest for Democrats to swallow.

“It’s a painful area for all of us, as Democrats, to make these cuts in education assistance,” he said.

There are “substantial” proposed cuts to a $79 billion fund created to help states deal with the economic crisis by giving them more money for schools, Durbin said.

Putting more pressure on senators was news Friday that employers slashed another 598,000 jobs off U.S. payrolls in January, taking the unemployment rate up to 7.6 percent. See where new jobs might be created »

“This is not some abstract debate. It is an urgent and growing crisis,” President Obama said at a White House ceremony unveiling a new economic advisory board. “If we drag our feet and fail to act, this crisis will turn into a catastrophe.”

The frenzy of meetings on Capitol Hill shifted into yet a higher and more powerful gear.

White House budget director Peter Orszag left a morning meeting in Reid’s office but would not comment on negotiations. Senators who were meeting in their office buildings Thursday were negotiating directly with Reid just outside the chamber doors.

The House passed an $819 billion version of the stimulus plan last week, but no Republican voted in favor of it.

The Senate has 56 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with them. There are 41 Republicans. One Senate seat from Minnesota remains open pending the outcome of an election recount challenge

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