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Senators Work Toward Stimulus Compromise
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Senators Work Toward Stimulus Compromise

Politics

Senators Work Toward Stimulus Compromise

Senators Work Toward Stimulus Compromise
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As the unemployment rate rises to 7.6 percent, Senate Democrats pushed to pass the stimulus bill. Senators made their way through amendments on the floor as a bipartisan gang of 20 met off-stage to come up with a plan that can get at least 60 votes.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Some Senators are working to overcome partisan divisions over the stimulus package, or formally known as the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. The Senate has amended it and pushed its price tag up to $937 billion. There are not enough votes in that chamber to pass the measure and much is now riding on a group of moderate senators from both parties who are looking for a compromise. NPR's David Welna has that story.

DAVID WELNA: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had hoped to finish the stimulus bill last night, but he held things over to give the bipartisan group of senators trying to strike a deal more time. Today, Reid said more progress has been made.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): We're nearing the time when negotiations must be completed and action must begin. So I urged my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, to dedicate this day to responsibly passing this legislation and sending it to the president.

WELNA: Reid pointed to today's Labor Department report showing nearly 600,000 more jobs were lost in January, the biggest monthly job loss in 34 years. At the White House today, President Obama did the same as he demanded urgent action.

President BARACK OBAMA: 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. Now is the time for Congress to act. It's time to pass an economic recovery and reinvestment plan to get our economy moving.

WELNA: But the man President Obama defeated in November is now leading a Republican counter-offensive. John McCain declared on the Senate floor today that the American people are unhappy with the stimulus.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): And why are the American people unhappy? Why is it that my office and other offices are inundated with phone calls? Because we put it in it unnecessary and even wasteful and nonproductive programs, and to the tunes of billions and billions and billions of dollars.

WELNA: Another senator who's a lost a White House bid staunchly defended the bill. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry said if the private sector won't spend, then the government has to.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Almost every major economists has suggested that it's going to take a very significant component of that ugly words spending in order to prime the pump and begin to shift the psychology, turn things around.

WELNA: Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman said the American economic house is on fire. He and his quarreling colleagues, he added, are the only ones who can put it out.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): We as the firefighters seem to be falling into some old habits where we're arguing about how to get to the fire while the house keeps burning.

WELNA: Lieberman is the part of the group of moderate senators trying to pare about a $100 billions in spending off the stimulus package. Florida Democrat Bill Nelson's in the group too, and he says he's optimistic about the bill's prospects.

Senator BILL NELSON (Democrat, Florida): It's going to be pared back in order to get the 60 votes to pass it. And that will occur, if not tonight, sometime over the weekend.

WELNA: But as the bill's spending is pared back, some Democrats are saying it's become too laden with tax cuts that won't produce jobs. One is California's Dianne Feinstein.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): So, I reserve the right, at the end of the day, to vote against the package that I don't think puts those jobs out there.

WELNA: It now appears likely the struggle for a winning comprise will continue through the weekend.

David Welna, NPR News, the capital.

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