Groups Lobby Against Cuts to Stimulus Bill

Posted February 6, 2009 at 4:38pm

A bipartisan proposal to cut as much as $100 billion from the foundering economic stimulus package has prompted significant opposition from K Street and outside organizations, further complicating Senate Democratic leaders’ efforts to salvage the bill. GOP and Democratic aides familiar with the situation said Friday afternoon that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is not only having difficulty in rounding up enough Republicans to meet the 60-vote hurdle needed to move forward, but is also struggling to keep his own caucus in line. According to a senior Democratic aide, lawmakers including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) appear unwilling to vote for cloture on the bill at this point, while others have become increasingly unhappy with the potential cuts that may be made to reach a deal with Republicans. For instance, a K Street source close to the negotiations said Friday that a proposal to eliminate funding for NASA has upset Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), while others have raised objections to other potential cuts. Senate Democrats were scheduled to caucus late Friday afternoon to discuss the situation. Reid sent the chamber into recess until 6:30 p.m. But a vote Friday night on passage of the bill may be impossible regardless of the negotiations on a compromise amendment to cut as much as $100 billion from the measure. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) indicated that Republicans are unlikely to give their consent to vote on the bill Friday and that Reid will have to use procedural maneuvers that require 60 votes to bring debate on the bill to a close. Much of the work Friday centered on a bipartisan plan to reduce the overall size of the bill. The proposal, which is being worked on by a group of centrist lawmakers led by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), will likely end up cutting between $80 billion and $100 billion from the $900 billion stimulus bill. But a draft plan that began circulating late Thursday evening has sparked outcries from unions, the tech industry and others who would lose funds under the plan. Hoping to protect their favored areas of funding, a number of corporations and trade unions, including the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO’s Metal Trades Department and the National Education Association on Thursday night and Friday launched a last-minute lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill. According to Senate aides, offices have been hit by a flurry of phone calls, faxes and e-mails urging them to oppose the Nelson-Collins amendment for a host of reasons. For instance, in a letter sent to lawmakers Thursday, AFT President Randi Weingarten urged lawmakers to oppose the Nelson-Collins amendment, saying it will make deep cuts to key education programs. “I write on behalf of the more than 1.4 million members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to urge you to reject the amendment,” Weingarten wrote, explaining that the money “will help avert draconian cuts that could lead to larger class sizes; delays in the purchase of up-to-date textbooks and state-of-the-art technology; and high tuition rates at public universities.” Aides said Friday that it appeared the new round of lobbying against the cuts, particularly by some of the Democratic Party’s strongest union supporters, rattled lawmakers and further complicated efforts to pass a bill.