Democrats, Republicans Work To Trim Stimulus

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The Senate's Democratic leaders will try again Friday to garner enough support to pass the gigantic economic stimulus package that President Obama's requested. The price tag on the Senate's version of that plan has swelled to $937 billion. But a group of moderate Democrats and Republicans is working to pare that figure.


This is MORNING EDITION. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The Senate's Democratic leaders will try again today to do what they failed to do last night - put together enough support to pass the gigantic economic stimulus package that President Obama requested. The price tag on the Senate's version has risen to $937 billion.

But moderate Democrats and Republicans are working to pare that figure down by about $100 billion. Much is riding on their attempt to do so, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: President Obama would like a stimulus package on his desk ready to sign a week from now. For that to happen, the Senate would have to pass its plan, blend it with a similar measure the House passed last week, and then both chambers would have to approve a final bill.

With the clock ticking down, the president yesterday turned up the heat on Congress to move quickly. If it doesn't, he warned a gathering of House Democrats in Williamsburg, Virginia, last night, an economy already in crisis will be faced with catastrophe.

President BARACK OBAMA: We're not moving quickly because we're trying to jam something down people's throats. We're moving quickly because we're told that if we don't move quickly that the economy is going to keep on getting worse. We'll have another 2 or 3 or 4 million jobs lost this year.

WELNA: At about the same time on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid was also turning up the heat. He told his colleagues they would have to keep working throughout the night to get to a final vote on the stimulus bill.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): The reason we need to work through the night, I can't imagine what would happen to the financial markets tomorrow if there was a report that this bill would go down.

WELNA: But a couple of hours later, Reid relented. He said he'd made up his mind.

Sen. REID: That we're going to stop legislating tonight, come back tomorrow, come in at 10 o'clock, go immediately to the bill.

WELNA: Reid called off the all-nighter to give more time to the group of moderate Democrats and Republicans trying to reach agreement on paring back the bill. Maine Republican Susan Collins said Republicans agreed with President Obama, that the two-year plan should not cost more than $800 billion.

Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): We're talking about both cuts in the spending but also refocusing the spending. For example, I would like to see more money in infrastructure, because I think that's stimulative, it creates jobs, and it's needed.

WELNA: Another member of the group, Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, called the size and the shape of the bill the main sticking points.

Senator CLAIRE MCCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri): And so you try to please some people with the amount, and then there's people that don't like the composition. So then you try to fix the composition, and then someone doesn't like the amount. So it is harder than it looks, but we're close.

WELNA: President Obama's opponent last November, Arizona Republican John McCain, has in the past joined bipartisan efforts to reach compromise - but not this time.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): The stimulus package would be a disaster for our children and our grandchildren.

WELNA: McCain proposed a stimulus package costing less than half what Senate Democrats came up with. But his measure, consisting mainly of a yearlong holiday from payroll taxes, was rejected last night in a party line vote. New York Democrat Charles Schumer says President Obama's goal of 80 votes in the Senate for the stimulus would require making too many concessions to Republicans.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): We'd rather pass a good bill with 65 votes than a bill that doesn't work with 80 votes. The real test is whether this bill is going to work, and the key number is the number of jobs created, not the number of votes.

WELNA: Still, at least a couple of Republicans will have to vote with Democrats for the stimulus to move forward.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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Senators Will Try Again Friday To Pass Stimulus

Wrangling over the Senate version of President Obama's economic stimulus bill continued into the evening Thursday, with senators plodding through votes on more than a dozen amendments already offered to the nearly $1 trillion plan.

As the president ratcheted up pressure for quick action on the proposal, a group of moderate senators — including up to eight Republicans — continued to struggle behind closed doors to craft a bipartisan agreement that would trim $100 billion-plus from the spending package.

The cuts are intended to attract moderate Republican support and appease some Democrats also concerned that the package included billions for projects that wouldn't have an immediate effect on the economy."We still don't have a product," Florida Sen. Mel Martinez said as afternoon turned to evening. "We're running out of time."

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada asserted on Thursday that he had the 60 votes to approve the original measure. Reid vowed to work all night — "until we get it done" — to finish the bill.

But hours later Reid relented, saying, "We're going to stop legislating tonight, come back tomorrow, come in at 10 o'clock, go immediately to the bill."

Reid called off the all-nighter to give the group of moderate Democrats and Republicans more time to try to reach an agreement on paring back the bill.

Wayward Faction

Earlier, Reid aggressively warned that the package would not be hijacked by the bipartisan group, which has been led by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Nelson said his group had been dealing with the White House during their meetings, though he did not say whether the president himself was involved in the discussions.

Behind the scenes, some Republicans were skeptical of Reid's claim. But Democratic leaders are said to be confident that no Democrat will vote against the president, and that Collins and her fellow Maine Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe, and perhaps another Republican or two will vote for the plan, even without a compromise that lowers the price tag.

Democrats could pass the measure by a simple majority of the Senate's 100 members. But leaders want to hit 60 to deny Republicans the opportunity of blocking the legislation with a point of order allowed under the chamber's rules.

The mood at the Capitol all day had an air of desperation — and, at times, anger — as Republicans took to the Senate floor to take whacks at the president's plan, and Democrats pushed back.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona attempted to replace the president's package with one that cost about half as much and included more tax cuts; his effort failed by a vote of 57-40. McCain said what was happening in the Senate is "not bipartisanship."

Long Night Ahead

And in a body where its lowliest members can use procedural tactics to bollix up progress, everyone was expecting a long night. Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a master of procedure, said late in the day that he had up to 16 amendments he wants to take to the floor before a final vote.

"Every one of these amendments needs a vote," he said. But, when asked which of his proposals had the best shot of passing, Coburn responded, "None of them."

That doesn't mean he won't be asking for two hours to present them.

Though Democrats have avoided calling for a test vote — called a cloture vote — that would stop amendments and force a final vote in 48 hours, it was not off the table.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is not expected to let it get to that point: Though critical of the legislation, he has complimented Reid on his handling of Republican amendments and said there would be a vote.

Meanwhile, Nebraska's Nelson expressed more hope than Martinez that the bipartisan group could still come up with a compromise plan as the night wore on.

"We hope to have an agreement," Nelson said. "It's just much more difficult than anyone anticipated."

On that, the president no doubt agrees.



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