Stimulus Expected to Clear Senate on Tuesday

Posted February 7, 2009 at 8:29am

Updated: 10:27 a.m. A bipartisan deal to slash $108 billion from the Senate’s economic stimulus bill virtually assures the chamber will pass the measure on Tuesday, but the spending cuts will undoubtedly face resistance from House leaders who will have to sign off on it before sending the legislation to President Barack Obama’s desk. Following a day of what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called sometimes “ugly” negotiations, Democrats and a handful of Republicans reached a deal Friday evening on a compromise amendment that allowed Reid to set up a likely vote on final passage for Tuesday afternoon. That vote depends on the adoption of the bipartisan amendment, but all 58 members of the Democratic caucus and at least three Republicans – Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) – are expected to give the majority more than the 60 votes it needs to overcome a threatened GOP-led filibuster. Reid scheduled the measure’s key test vote for Monday evening, when Senators will vote to override the procedural objections of the majority of the Republican Conference. With every Democratic hand on deck, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he is counting on ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to cast a vote in favor of the measure. Collins said Friday night that she hopes more Republicans will join her small group in passing what will likely be a roughly $820 billion bill designed to create jobs by funding infrastructure projects around the country and providing tax breaks to middle-income Americans. “There are some of our colleagues who are taking a look at the details,” she said. “I’m hopeful that we may see a couple more Republican votes.” But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ridiculed the agreement, which he said still would not achieve its goal and carries too hefty a price tag. “As near as we can tell, even after those efforts, it is roughly the same size as the House bill,” McConnell said. “According to the figures I’ve been given, the House bill is about $820 billion. The Senate bill, under the compromise, we believe, would be about $827 billion.” Though they are forcing Reid to give them more time to debate the bill, Senate Republicans did not object early Saturday morning when Reid declared there would be no more votes on other amendments. While GOP Senators complain that the bill still costs too much, House Democrats are already balking at the massive Senate rewrite, particularly the decision to zero out $16 billion for school construction. “These cuts are very damaging — [the House measure] was put together very carefully,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, according to published reports. “The funding goes directly to school districts. They are stimulative because they maintain jobs instead of cutting jobs.” However, Obama gave the Senate negotiators his blessing and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was on Capitol Hill Friday helping to negotiate the deal. Despite the continued uncertainty for the bill, Reid and other Democratic leaders declared victory Friday night. “Because of the courage of three Republican Members and because of the flexibility of our Democratic caucus, which certainly didn’t get everything it wanted, we came together behind President Obama’s plan,” Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said. “Everyone had to give a little, and thank God more than 60 have.” The compromise amendment, devised by Collins, Specter and Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joseph Lieberman (ID-Conn.), includes a combination of $83 billion in spending cuts and $25 billion slashed from the bill’s tax provisions. Democrats praised Collins, Specter and Snowe for breaking with the majority of their party to help push the bill over the finish line. “They’ve chosen to separate themselves from the Republican caucus because they believe it’s in the national interest,” Lieberman said. The biggest cuts in the amendment come at the expense of education programs, with school construction, the early-education Head Start program, and “higher education facilities” taking the biggest hits. Health care programs also got the ax, with $5.8 billion for pandemic flu preparedness and $2 billion for “prevention and wellness” being cut. Additionally, the amendment proposes to scale back funding for states from $79 billion to $39 billion. Though reductions to education and health care funding along with other programs near and dear to Democrats’ hearts were difficult for the Senate majority to swallow, they said they were willing to support the bill and the amendment in order to get it into a House-Senate conference, and closer to Obama’s desk. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said the key for her was that the measure “maintains its core focus on creating jobs.” Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he was pleased with the final deal and that he believed they have “61, maybe more” votes. Baucus explained that $25 billion of the Finance Committee’s proposal had been eliminated, representing $18 billion in tax cuts and $7 billion in health-related spending. Pelosi on Saturday said she is confident lawmakers will deliver the package to the White House by their Presidents Day deadline. But she sidestepped questions about how conference negotiations would proceed — and whether they would be thrown open to the public. “It depends on what the number contains and how the money is spent. That may surprise you but that’s really the fact,” she said. “When we see what the Senate has, we’ll see how we go to the next step.” Pelosi said Congressional leaders “can focus on the great deal of similarity in the bill for hundreds of billions of dollars and then get down to the finer points.” John Stanton, Jessica Brady and Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.