Senate Debates $780 Billion Stimulus Deal

Leaders believe it will get enough votes to pass over the weekend.

ByABC News
February 6, 2009, 1:28 PM

Feb. 6, 2009— -- After hammering out a deal on a now-$780 billion stimulus package this evening, Senate leaders believe they have a bill that likely can pass a Senate vote some time in the coming days.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. said he will start the process toward a cloture vote on the stimulus Monday.

"We recognize that our plan isn't perfect," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a key negotiator on the deal, told his fellow senators. "But I believe it's both responsible and realistic. It's stimulative and timely. It can help deliver economic recovery to the American people soon."

Nelson said negotiators went through the once-approximately-$900 billion package line by line to make tens of billions in cuts.

"We trimmed the fat, fried the bacon and milked the sacred cows," Nelson told the Senate, as it debated the revised bill into the evening.

The deal is expected to draw two or more Republican votes into the Democratic caucus to reach 60 votes or more -- the number needed to avoid a Republican filibuster.

Two Republican moderates, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said this was a time for the Senate to come together.

"This debate is not about Republicans or about Democrats, it's not about our young president winning or losing, its about the American people," Collins said. "The American people don't want to see partisan gridlock."

"We have reduced the expenditures by $145 billion -- that's a lot of money," added Specter, pointing out that much of the money that will be cut was meant for popular programs, including tens of billions for education spending.

But their Republican colleagues questioned whether the minimal support from Republicans really was bipartisan.

"There are 40 Republican senators here," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "We now have two -- count them, two -- who have decided behind closed doors.

"I've been involved in a lot of bipartisan legislation around here," he added, "but I guarantee you, this is not bipartisan."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., expressed doubts about whether the Senate bill really is pared down, considering tax cuts for house and auto purchases that senators added this week before making today's cuts.

"Even after those efforts, it is still roughly the same size as the [$819 billion] House bill," he said, guessing that the Senate version could rise to $827 billion with amendments.

"This is an extraordinary amount of money and a crushing debt for our grandchildren," McConnell said.

But the Obama White House has been pushing for senators to pass a stimulus bill, and tonight applauded the new compromise.

"On the day when we learned 3.6 million people have lost their jobs since this recession began, we are pleased the process is moving forward and we are closer to getting Americans a plan to create millions of jobs and get people back to work," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

There likely will be no vote on the bill tonight -- but more likely on Saturday or Sunday after further negotiation and debate. It's possible the final vote may slip to Monday.

However, officials emerging from a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting on the deal before the Senate debate were optimistic.

"I am pleased with this," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. "This is a strong package."

The agreement was spearheaded by a coalition of bipartisan senators aiming to reduce spending enough to get the Republican votes needed to pass the bill. The White House was also a chief negotiator, dispatching Rahm Emanual, the president's chief of staff, to Capitol Hill to try to shepherd a bill to sign by President's Day.

However, Sen. Reid., now may have to sell the trimmed-down bill to some Democrats, sources said as details of the deal emerged.

Senators got to the $780 billion number not only by taking out some spending programs targeted by Republicans, but also by shaving some of the broader state aid and narrowing the alternative minimum tax relief approved by the Senate earlier this week.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that compromise is 42 percent tax cuts and 58 percent spending, according to a Reuters report.

While some Republicans and Democrats may have reached common ground with a deal, whatever bill is finally approved by the Senate must be reconciled with the $819 billion version passed in the House of Representatives with no Republican votes -- a process which promises further negotiation.