Tempers Flare As Senate Nears Stimulus Vote

After Sen. Reid vowed to work through the night, weary Senate needs another day.

February 5, 2009, 1:28 PM

Feb. 5, 2009— -- As the Senate inched toward a final vote on the $900 billion economic stimulus package, tempers flared on the Senate floor: Republicans said bipartisanship had evaporated and they are being railroaded. Democrats accused Republicans of obstruction.

"If this is the new way of doing businesses, if this is the change we all can believe in, America's best days are behind her," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Moderates from both parties have been trying to hammer out a compromise, but sources tell ABC News there is almost zero chance of the Senate reaching a final vote tonight.

Eariler in the evening, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate will work through the night, setting an example for the rest of the world.

"I can't imagine what would happen to the financial markets tomorrow if there was a report this bill would go down," Reid said. "I hope that within 12 hours we can have a piece of legislation we can be proud of."

Democratic Senate leaders said this afternoon that they have the votes to pass the stimulus bill and suggested they have little interest in making further changes to win more Republican support.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he also hopes there can be a bill "soon."

Senators began voting on a series of amendments to the measure on Thursday afternoon. In the chamber's first vote to alter the bill, senators defeated Sen. John McCain's, R-Ariz., $425 billion alternative to the package, voting strictly on party lines.

"If the leadership can peel off two or three Republicans, that's an accomplishment they will make," McCain said. "But it's not bipartisanship."

Anti-stimulus forces are hardening in their resolve after considering a slew of amendments. There is a chance Republicans will filibuster, moving a cloture vote to the weekend or next early week.

Earlier Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters he has the votes -- with no further changes -- to pass the economic stimulus bill.

"We believe we do" have the votes, Reid said. "We believe we can find two Republicans of goodwill to do the right thing for their country."

Reid had also said he believed all 58 Democrats would vote for the bill. With Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., absent this evening, Democrats would need three Republicans to side with them to receive the 60 votes needed to pass the measure.

"Has bipartisanship failed?" asked Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "So far it's not working, but it takes two to tango and so far the Republicans aren't dancing. The hard right has a stranglehold on most of the Republicans."

Meantime, moderate senators have been meeting today to "scrub" wasteful spending from the bill. Reid said he is happy to talk to those senators, but doesn't feel compelled to support their cuts.

"The question is: Do they work in an effort to strengthen the bill or destroy the bill?" Reid said.

Schumer also suggested it is irrelevant whether the bill gets more Republican support.

He said that three months from now, "it will vanish in the wind how many votes we got, as long as we pass it."

Still, the senators spending the day trying to trim the bill seem convinced Reid has miscalculated and needs their support to pass the measure.

"I would say to the majority leader that his success depends on the success of this group," said Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

Senators Meet to 'Scrub' Bill of Wasteful Spending

A group of 16 senators was meeting today behind closed doors to hammer out a package of cuts.

According to Collins, R-Maine, the group achieved an "in-depth scrubbing of the bill, going line by line item by item."

Emerging from the meeting for a midday break, Sen. Joe Lieberman said the group of Democrats and five Republicans were at a "breakthrough" moment.

Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, one of the moderate Republicans who participated in the closed-door meeting, told ABC News he expects the group to get behind lowering the overall size of the bill to $750 billion.

To sell the package, Voinovich also said he expects several governors to come to Washington, D.C., next week to vouch for the speed with which the proposed federal projects could begin.

Collins also said President Obama had convinced her Wednesday that the bill needs to be larger than $650 billion, but she would not say what the top line would be after the scrubbing is complete. Collins said the senators "agreed to tens of billions of adjustments."

Much of the funding they cut will be redirected to an omnibus funding bill for regular government appropriations. For instance, Collins said the stimulus had funding for pandemic flu preparation, something that concerns all senators but should not be in a stimulus.

Despite efforts to cut wasteful spending, it continues to grow.

The bill was $819 billion when it passed the House. It hit the Senate floor Monday at $887 billion. And after a flurry of amendments, it now stands at $920 billion.

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said on MSNBC this morning that he has already identified more than $100 billion in spending he considers extraneous -- fueling GOP arguments that the measure has gotten out of hand.

"You really did have these proposals going into the appropriations committees and people filling up buckets with projects," Webb said. "My staff went through this thing a couple of nights ago. We found more than $100 billion of items that really don't meet those criteria and that's part of the debate we're having right now. Do we add something with those or can we take those out?"

Debate on the Senate floor got heated this morning.

"This bill stinks," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "The process that brought it here stinks. Not a single Republican in the House voted for it. Maybe every Republican is just crazy, I don't think so."

There are still an undetermined number of amendments to be voted on, including the McCain alternative -- a $475 billion bill that includes $275 billion in tax cuts -- and a still unwritten amendment to come from the centrist group that would cut extraneous spending.

But Democratic leaders insist there is very little extraneous spending. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the so-called "pork" provisions in the bill were minuscule in relation to the 735-page bill.

"If I could do this in a symbolic way, that their measures account for one page," Durbin said, ripping the sheet of paper. "One page of this bill. You listen to the things that they list, that they found so objectionable, they count, in dollar terms, to about one page of this bill."

In the House, meantime, leaders of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter Wednesday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer urging more scrubbing of the stimulus bill when the House revisits the bill in conference.

Two of the eight leaders who signed the letter joined the unanimous House Republican conference in voting against the stimulus bill last week in the House.

The letter notes that "while a number of Blue Dogs voted against the package considered in the House, many of those who did support it did so with serious reservations and the conviction that the package should and would be improved through Senate consideration."

"Now that the Senate is debating its stimulus and recovery package, reports indicate certain senators, including Sen. [Ben] Nelson of Nebraska and Sen. [Susan] Collins of Maine, are engaged in a bipartisan effort to pare further spending. We believe that's a highly worthwhile goal, and that there are additional provisions that would be better left for consideration in regular order," wrote the Blue Dogs.

"We look forward to working with you to achieve that goal and ensure that any final stimulus and recovery package is properly focused to achieve the results the American people expect and deserve. "

ABC News' David Chalian contributed to this report.

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