Senate Economic Stimulus Debate Extended

February 5, 2009 06:00 PM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Vote timeline unclear

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) late Thursday extended the debate on a $920 billion-plus, 736-page stimulus bill until at least today to give Senators more time to work out a bipartisan plan that would strip $75 billion to $100 billion from the package.

Reid threatened to hold a Sunday test vote if the measure cannot be completed today. Reid needs all 58 members of the Democratic caucus as well as two Republicans to pass the bill. Senate approval would lead to a House-Senate conference next week, when congressional leaders would try to work out differences, with the goal of sending a compromise bill to Obama's desk before Presidents' Day, Feb. 16.

President Barack Obama openly pushed a package in the $800 billion range in televised remarks made at the House Democratic retreat in Williamsburg, Va. His advice to opponents was "Don't come to the table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped to create this crisis. ... I don't care if you drive a hybrid or an SUV, if you're driving toward a cliff, you have to change direction."

The White House announced that Obama on Monday at 8 p.m. ET will give the first news conference of his presidency -- on prime-time television -- after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner details a rescue plan for the financial sector.

Obama warned of an economic “catastrophe” if the stimulus bill fails. “Millions more Americans will lose their jobs. Homes will be lost. Families will go without health care. Our crippling dependence on foreign oil will continue. That is the price of inaction,” Obama said. In a private session with House Democrats at their retreat, according to a Roll Call account, Obama told Democrats he had “inherited a mess” but was committed to tackling the challenges facing the financial system — even if such work limited him to a single term. He said he would rather “do the right thing” than be a mediocre, two-term president.

Growing frustration. Obama, in remarks to House Democrats gathered at the Kingsmill Resort,expressed frustration with the barrage of criticism that has bogged down the plan. The plan's opponents say, "'This is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill,'" Obama said. "What do think a stimulus is? That's the whole point! No seriously, that's the point! Now I'm getting carried away."

Moderate Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are leading a group trying to strip measures from the bill that many lawmakers claim would not help stimulate the economy, including $300 million to upgrade USDA facilities and $1.4 billion for the National Science Foundation. The group has also begun to discuss adding more money for infrastructure projects that would create construction jobs around the country.

Collins said Obama, who met with her privately on Wednesday, agreed to her effort to reduce the overall cost of the package to $800 billion. "Our original figure was roughly in the 800 range," Obama recently stated. "There have been some changes to our framework both in the House and in the Senate, but that's, I think, the scale that we need to deliver for the American people."

Collins said that she could not support an unaltered package, and said she would not risk sending the legislation to a conference with the House on the promise that negotiators would trim it at that point. "I think it's important we get a bipartisan compromise here in the Senate," she said.

A delay in Senate action occurred shortly after a clash over an amendment expanding Trade Adjustment Assistance. The federal program offers wage assistance, benefits and job training to U.S. manufacturing workers who have lost their jobs as the result of global trade deals. Earlier on Thursday, leaders of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled the agreement that extends the program to workers in services industries and the public sector.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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