Senate Debates Compromise On Stimulus

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The Senate held a rare Saturday session to discuss President Obama's massive economic stimulus plan. The package slimmed down a bit Friday night in a compromise between Democrats and a few moderate Republicans.


From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Jacki Lyden. The U.S. Senate held a rare Saturday session today, debating how to make the massive economic stimulus bill a little less massive. Last night, Democratic leaders in the Senate worked out a compromise with a handful of Republican moderates that would shave more than a hundred billion dollars from the package. President Barack Obama made another urgent plea for the retooled package in his weekly web and radio address today.

(Soundbite of President Barack Obama's speech)

President BARACK OBAMA: The scale and scope of this plan is right, and the time for action is now. Because if we don't move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe.

LYDEN: Most Republican senators remain far from convinced. Here's Arizona's John Kyl speaking on the Senate floor.

(Soundbite of Senator John Kyl's speech)

Senator JOHN KYL (Arizona, Republican): He's really used some dangerous words, I would say. It is not an excuse for acting in an inappropriate way to say that we have got to do something right now and if we don't, there's going to be catastrophe in the land - therefore, suggesting that we need to be less careful about what we do.

LYDEN: Joining us to talk about where the bill stands is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, for starters, what do we know about this new version of the package that the Senate is now debating?

RON ELVING: It's been slimmed down by, say, roughly a hundred billion dollars; we're going back and forth on exactly what the impact of some of these changes would be. They're doing it partly by throwing out some things entirely, some money for neighborhood programs that would be eliminated, a couple of billion dollars there, but mostly by slimming down large commitments that were being made to the states and to the cities to alleviate their physical distress. This was something that a lot of the members of the Senate felt would not necessarily create jobs fast enough, and that's what got started the rebellion, if you will, in the Senate on Friday that led to the negotiations to trim down the package.

LYDEN: Hmm. We're told the Senate will vote on this deal on Tuesday, so why were they meeting Saturday?

ELVING: They're meeting today and tomorrow to try get as much of the debate in as possible, to give as many senators as much of a chance to talk about it as they might wish. They also need to deal with the threat, or the possibility, of a last-minute filibuster on the part of the Republican opponents. So to do that, they have to file what's called a cloture petition, and then that takes a couple of days to ripen. They'll vote on that to make sure there can't be any extended debate beyond the day they want to vote. They'll vote on that on Monday, and that will clear the way for a final passage vote on Tuesday.

LYDEN: Say the Senate passes this somewhat diminished version of the bill. Any sense of how that will play with negotiators from the House?

ELVING: Not well. The House is already up in arms. Speaker Pelosi has given a kind of cautious response to what's happening here. A lot of the spending that is being taken out or reduced in the package was fought for and put in by powerful people in the House who are not going to be happy about this compromise.

That's why it's crucial that the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel,was involved in these negotiations yesterday. He is a creature of the House. He just left the leadership in the House to take this job now with Barack Obama, so he is the necessary, indispensable person to get this sold over on the House side later next week.

LYDEN: Ron, Monday night, President Obama has his first news conference. Will he be talking to the Senate primarily or to the House?

ELVING: Good question. You know, he has to talk primarily to the Senate because they still have to vote on Tuesday. He's got to hold at least a couple of Republican votes, and he's hoping to bring more than a couple, more than just the minimum, over on the bill.

And at the same time, he's got to have an eye on the House, whereas we have said there's going to be something of a rebellion against this. It's going to happen first in the conference committee between the House and the Senate, and then we'll have to see how many House members will vote for the product of that conference committee. And on the House side, they can't expect any Republican help at all.

LYDEN: NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, thanks for joining us.

ELVING: Thank you, Jacki.

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