Senators reach deal to cut stimulus bill to $780B
Senate Democrats reached agreement with key Republicans Friday night on an economic stimulus measure at the heart of President Barack Obama's plan for combatting the worst recession in decades.
WASHINGTON – With job losses soaring nationwide, Senate Democrats reached agreement with key Republicans Friday night on an economic stimulus measure at the heart of President Barack Obama's plan for combatting the worst recession in decades.Skip to next paragraph
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"The American people want us to work together. They don't want to see us dividing along partisan lines on the most serious crisis confronting our country," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of two GOP senators who signaled support for the bill.Officials put the cost of the measure at $780 billion in tax cuts and new spending combined. No details were immediately available, and there appeared to be some confusion even among senators about the price tag as floor debate continued late into the night.
The agreement capped a tense day of backroom negotiations in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, joined by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, sought to attract the support of enough Republicans to give the measure the needed 60-vote majority.
Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, who is battling a brain tumor, arrived in Washington in case his vote turned out to be needed. The Massachusetts senator has been in Florida in recent days and has not been in the Capitol since suffering a seizure on Inauguration Day more than two weeks ago.
Democrats hold a 58-41 majority in the Senate, including two independents, but it takes 60 votes to pass the stimulus bill because it would raise the federal deficit.
At $780 billion, the legislation would be smaller than the measure that cleared the House on a party-line vote last week. It also would mean a sharp cut from the version that has been the subject of Senate debate for a week. That measure stood at $937 billion.
Beyond the numbers, though, any agreement would mark a victory for the new president and would keep Democratic leaders on track to fulfill their promise of delivering him a bill to sign by the end of next week.
Obama said further delay would be "inexcusable and irresponsible" given Friday's worst monthly unemployment report in a generation — 598,000 jobs lost in January and the national unemployment rate rising to 7.6 percent. And late Friday, federal regulators announced the closures of two banks, First Bank Financial Services in Georgia and Alliance Bank in California, the seventh and eight failures this year of federally insured banks.
"The world is waiting to see what we're going to do in the next 24 hours," said Reid who has spent much of the week trying to balance demands among moderates in both parties against pressure for a larger bill from liberals in his own rank and file.
By midday, the majority leader had spoken once with Obama by phone and five times with Emanuel. He met with Collins and Specter as well as Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Nebraska Democrat who had long advocated cuts in the House-passed bill.