Senate Closes In on Deal for Stimulus Plan

Democrats said a vote on the measure could come later on Friday, although Republicans could try to delay it by a few days. Reports put the bill’s final cost at $780 billion in tax cuts and new spending combined — smaller than the measure that cleared the House last week and a sharp cut from an earlier Senate version that had reached a price tag of more than $900 billion.

After the Senate votes, congressional leaders from the House of Representatives and the Senate will meet to work through their respective versions of the measure and push it toward final passage. The House passed the measure by a 244-188 vote — but without the support of a single Republican lawmaker.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said a bipartisan group of negotiators agreed on the $780 billion package, cutting roughly $110 billion from the stimulus bill traversing the Senate floor all week, the Washington Post reported.

“We trimmed the fat, fried the bacon and milked the sacred cows,” Nelson said.

“We’ve got a deal,” Sen. Sherrod Brown declared after a meeting with fellow Democrats on the compromise after a marathon of negotiations and back-room talks over the plan.

Meetings continued throughout the day between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Both played key roles in an effort by centrist lawmakers to pare back the bill’s $900-billion-plus price tag by cutting spending measures. A third moderate, Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, worked with Democrats to trim the bill’s $340 billion in tax cuts, the Associated Press reported.

“We object to spending more than we have to for a purpose which is not really crystallized and defined,” Specter said on the NewsHour Thursday. “Our objections really go to recognizing the need for a stimulus and wanting these expenditures to be targeted rifle-shot to a stimulus and not look to long-term effects where we have a regular budget to do that …That’s really the core of our financial, fiscal concerns.”

Sen. John Kerry, D- Mass., told reporters late Friday the compromise price tag would be made up of 42 percent tax cuts with 58 percent in new spending. “It’s a good balance,” he said.

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.

The efforts took on new urgency as new government figures showed recession-weary employers eliminated 598,000 jobs in January, the most since the end of 1974. The unemployment rate rose to 7.6 percent.

In the wake of the new jobs numbers, President Obama toughened his rhetoric on the stimulus Friday, pushing lawmakers to come to agreement during remarks at a White House ceremony.

“These numbers demand action,” said Obama, who plans to campaign for the bill in Indiana and Florida next week. “It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay or politics as usual while millions of Americans are being put out of work.”

“The world is waiting to see what we’re going to do in the next 24 hours,” Reid said on the Senate floor, citing the bleaker economic picture. At midday, Reid predicted there would be deal that the Senate could vote on by Friday evening.

Earlier Friday, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the GOP was ready to support a bill, “but we will not support an aimless spending spree that masquerades as a stimulus.”

President Barack Obama has set a Feb. 16 deadline for a final stimulus plan to reach his desk.

A litany of proposed changes to the stimulus plan have criss-crossed the Senate floor this week. Lawmakers successfully pushed through an added tax credit for homebuyers to the bill and new tax benefits for new car buyers, among other measures.