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Congress Reaches Agreement on $789 Billion Stimulus Bill

BY Admin  February 11, 2009 at 7:30 PM EDT

U.S. Capitol

Both chambers must still pass the measure, but it appeared a final bill could reach President Barack Obama’s desk by his goal of mid-February. Even after an initial announcement of a deal by key senators, negotiations continued between House and Senate leaders over the final details of the bill.

“The middle ground we’ve reached creates more jobs than the original Senate bill and costs less than the original House bill,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters, according to the Associated Press.

Reid said 3.5 million jobs would be created under the package and that more than one-third of it would be dedicated to tax cuts and incentives for middle-class Americans, Reuters reported.

The bill includes provisions on unemployment benefits, food stamps and health coverage and would direct billions in funding to states that face deep cuts in their own programs.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the package included $150 billion in infrastructure spending, ranging from transportation to high-speed Internet projects.

The Senate had passed an $838 billion stimulus bill, and the House’s version totaled $820 billion. Negotiators worked with Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top White House aides around the clock to get the package under $800 billion in spending and tax incentives as some Republican lawmakers demanded.

In his remarks, Reid praised the efforts of Pelosi in finding a compromise. Pelosi was not present at the mid-afternoon press conference announcing the deal, although the reasons for her absence were not immediately known, reported the AP.

Hours later, Pelosi emerged from a meeting of negotiators and said, “We have come to an agreement with the Senate,” according to the New York Times.

Pelosi withheld her approval, at least in part, over a dispute over federal funding for school construction. “We had to make sure the investment in education” was in the bill, she said, the AP reported.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Wednesday there was a widespread feeling that Congress “ought to vote and move on.”

President Obama, who has been campaigning for the measure in economically hard-hit cities across the country, welcomed the agreement in a late afternoon written statement that said it would “save or create more than 3.5 million jobs and get our economy back on track.”

“I’m grateful to the House Democrats for starting this process, and for members in the House and Senate for moving it along with the urgency that this moment demands,” Mr. Obama’s statement read, according to news agencies.

Still, as reports emerged of the compromise, some Democrats voiced disappointment over the concessions made to reach a final deal.

“I am not happy with it,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said, according to the New York Times. “You are not looking at a happy camper. I mean, they took a lot of stuff out of education. They took it out of health, school construction and they put it more into tax issues.”

Others spoke of the urgency of the economic crisis as driving the quick push toward a deal.

“We do not have the luxury of time,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, a key player in the negotiations, reported the Washington Post. “We must expeditiously face the facts and pass this measure. To delay this any further would lead to consequences that could be horrendous.”