A small group of moderate senators including Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) reached the deal that appeared to assure Senate passage of an economic stimulus bill yesterday after more than 10 hours of near-constant private meetings.
Specter was in the middle of the action, with many critical talks occurring in his private “hideaway” office on the first floor of the Capitol.
Nobody involved was really happy, but there was a consensus that the group did not want to say no to the president or an anxious nation.
In announcing that a tentative deal had been reached, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) credited Specter and Sens. Susan Collins (R., Maine), Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) and Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) with saving the package.
“But for them we would not be here,” Reid said, yielding the floor to the Gang of Four to detail the agreement.
Specter said that based on the calls his office had received, supporting the stimulus legislation is a “very unpopular vote.” Some calls, he said, thought the bill had “too many expenditures” and others said not enough money was being spent.
Indeed, some conservative Republicans have vowed to punish Specter, who is running for reelection next year, if he votes for legislation that they consider wasteful.
Parts of the bill “give me heartburn,” Specter said.
He outlined some of the $145 billion in spending reductions made to get to the consensus bill – for example, child care was allotted $2 billion initially, but $1.4 billion in the tentative deal. Many people are unhappy with such reductions, “but absent this bill, they get zero,” he noted.
“There are reasons to argue that it’s a bad bill,” Specter said, “but I do not believe that there is any doubt that the economy would be enormously worse off without it.”
From USA Today:
WASHINGTON — On a day when new unemployment statistics showed that 11.6 million Americans are out of work, Senate Democratic leaders announced they had struck a compromise to advance an economic stimulus bill.
“In the Great Depression, the president and the Congress stood by,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “Here, now, the U.S. Congress led by President Barack Obama is not standing idly by.”
Baucus and other Democrats said that at least three Republican senators will vote for the revised version of the stimulus, giving leaders enough support to overcome a Republican filibuster. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said a vote may come on Sunday.
Republican leaders said they had not seen the specifics of the compromise but said they were concerned that the measure is still too large and that it is unlikely to jumpstart the troubled economy.
“Most of us are deeply skeptical that this will work,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of the stimulus plan. “And that level of skepticism leads us to believe that this course of action should not be taken.”
Democratic leaders said the cost of the revised stimulus bill is $780 billion, but that did not include at least two amendments that have already been approved by the Senate. One of those includes a $15,000 tax credit for home buyers that added $19 billion to the price tag.
Of the reductions made to the bill, $85 billion came from spending measures and $25 billion came from rolling back proposed tax cuts, said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. Roughly half of the spending cuts were made in education proposals, he said.
The three Republican senators who plan to support the measure are Olympia Snowe of Maine, Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Collins and Specter spoke in favor of the agreement on the Senate floor Friday night.
Even if the measure is approved Sunday the legislative battle is far from over. House and Senate negotiators are expected to meet in a conference committee next week to reconcile differences between the two versions of the bill.
As new figures from the Labor Department showed that the unemployment rate had jumped to 7.6%, Obama began sharpening his rhetoric to encourage the Senate to act. He said that voters in November’s election rejected “partisan posturing” and “the same tried and failed approaches.”
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel appeared on Capitol Hill as senators met behind closed doors to negotiate the trims. He left shortly before the compromise measure was announced.