Democrats Push for Quick Action on Stimulus

Posted February 12, 2009 at 4:56pm

More details – but not actual bill text – were trickling out about the $789.5 billion stimulus deal Thursday, as Democratic leaders pushed for quick passage with little time for Members to read it. “It is a great day for us,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, calling the package “historic and transformational.” Pelosi said she hoped more Republicans would vote for it when it comes to the floor Friday morning, but that clearly has not been her focus. “We stand as Democrats ready to be accountable for this bill,” she said. She tried to minimize the dispute with the Senate over the level of school construction money that led to the delay in the conference Wednesday after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had announced a deal. “When we saw the language, then we were on board,” Pelosi said. “It did get things moving and that’s fine,” she said of Reid’s apparently premature press conference. From the summaries released Thursday afternoon, it appears that the House caved almost entirely on the issue, losing the $14 billion line item for school construction. School modernization instead will be listed as an option under a different account for states. But the House won significant victories on a number of other issues, including stripping some tax provisions added in the Senate and restoring a new program to provide a two-thirds match for health insurance for the newly unemployed. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the bill would be available Thursday evening and voted on Friday afternoon, “giving Members enough time to review the conference report,” he said. Most House Democrats appeared ready to fall in line on the bill despite concerns from liberals that it may not be enough to stave off state and local layoffs and could require another package later this year. House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said he doesn’t expect defections beyond the 11 Democrats who opposed the House version despite the grumbling. “It’s the Democratic Party for God’s sake,” Larson said, suggesting that Members were willing to work out their differences to get a plan to the president. “I can’t think of anyone who’s gotten up in the Caucus and didn’t say, ‘You know what, I would have preferred A, but I’m going to vote for this package because of B.’” But some Members were waiting for the bill to actually be released before deciding. “There’s still confusion about exactly what it did or didn’t do,” said Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), who voted against the original stimulus package and is undecided on the conference bill. Reid continues to hold out hope for a vote on final passage of the bill Thursday night or Friday morning, Democratic aides said. Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said he did not expect a vote Thursday night, given the delay in writing the bill and the expectation that members of both parties will want to read it before voting. “I don’t see how we could agree to a vote” Thursday, Cochran said in an interview. Complicating the issue is the absence of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) who has been battling a brain tumor. Kennedy is not expected to return for the vote on the conference report, sources said. One Senate Democratic aide said it appears that Kennedy’s doctors do not want him to travel. He has recently been in Florida. But Kennedy’s absence could create a potential problem for Reid, since the Massachusetts Democrat’s vote was needed earlier this week to provide political cover for the three Senate Republican centrists who voted for the bill. Because none of the three wanted to be known as the 60th vote that helped Democrats break a threatened GOP filibuster, Kennedy provided the 61st vote for initial Senate passage of the measure on Tuesday. However, one senior Senate Democratic aide said Reid was running the traps to make sure Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) did not object to voting without Kennedy present. One senior Senate Democratic source said Reid was exploring the idea of having Kennedy’s absent vote in favor of the bill paired with a Republican who would otherwise vote against the bill. Though paired votes are not counted in the total, they do remain a part of the Congressional record, which could give the GOP centrists a way to prove they were not the decisive vote on the bill. Specter is regarded as the most vulnerable to political attacks for his support of the stimulus measure because he is planning to run for re-election in 2010 and could face a primary challenge from the right. Without Kennedy, Reid must hold the vote when Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) can attend, since he needs the other 57 Members of the Democratic caucus to prevail. Brown is scheduled to attend services for his late mother Friday night and Saturday morning. Aides said a vote Friday morning could be scheduled if Republicans did not object. Otherwise, it might have to wait until late afternoon on Saturday. House Republicans continued to rip into the bill sight unseen as a grab bag of liberal spending programs. At an afternoon press conference Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he expected the majority of House Republicans to vote against the bill, since he had heard of few changes in the conference version. Following Boehner’s remarks, GOP leaders retreated behind closed doors to brief Members on what little information they had received so far. They were not instructed on how to vote on the bill, according to sources in the room. Jennifer Bendery and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.