Dem, GOP Lawmakers Reach Stimulus Deal

After a day of closed-door negotiations, Congressional leaders struck a deal on a trimmed-down version of the stimulus plan, scaling it back to $789 billion, with House and Senate leaders working into the evening to overcome last-minute hurdles.

Democratic and Republican leaders went into a conference committee meeting, where differences in the House and Senate versions of a bill are resolved publicly, at 5 p.m. to hash out the details of the plan, but the meeting was postponed for the second time for unknown reasons.

The stimulus, which includes roughly $242 billion in tax cuts and $507 billion in spending, was hashed out by Democrat and moderate Republican senators this morning, who announced triumphantly at 3 p.m. today that they had reached an agreement on a slimmed-down version -- an announcement that was undercut by silence on the House side.

"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., said after a meeting of Senate Republican and Democratic leaders Wednesday morning.

"This is obviously a very difficult vote in view of the large deficit and national debt which we have, but I believe it is indispensable that strong action be taken because of the serious economic conditions ... and millions being foreclosed from their houses," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn. "The economists are uniform in their predication that we face the potential consequences of a catastrophe."

But the plan was met with some backlash from House Democrats, who complained about not being included in the negotiations.

To quell a last-minute rebellion by the liberal leaders, who were unhappy with the scaled-down bill, senators met at the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to negotiate the plan this afternoon and increased the funds allocated to states for school construction.

The White House thanked congressmen on reaching a "hard-fought compromise."

"It's also a plan that will provide immediate tax relief to families and businesses, while investing in priorities like health care, education, energy, and infrastructure that will grow our economy once more," President Barack Obama said in a written statement. " 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."

Sorting Out the Issues

The issue of money for school construction was a thorny one. Sources said the bill includes $6 billion for school construction, which some key House Democrats said was not enough.

"Every school in America will get 10,000 bucks if they're lucky," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, guessing that might be enough to buy two energy efficient windows. "And what's that going to do for them?" he asked. "We're trying to add new heating facilities. We're trying to add renovations. And doing it by formula doesn't do it."

Another problem, sources said, was that some House Democrats thought the bill gives states too much discretion on how to use some of the money intended for education. Some Congressman are concerned that governors will not use the money to help poor school districts.

Harkin said he'd ultimately vote for it, but he doesn't like the concessions made to get the support of the moderate Republicans.

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