House, Senate Work on Reconciling Stimulus Bills
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
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The gigantic economic stimulus bill that President Obama took to the people this week has made it through both houses of Congress. It passed the Senate yesterday after already clearing the House. Now the two must get together on a single bill. NPR's David Welna has this report.
DAVID WELNA: A few hours before the Senate passed it's $838 billion stimulus package, Majority Leader Harry Reid went to the White House with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They met there with President Obama, and according to Reid, the meeting was all about Congress getting a stimulus package to the president's desk as fast as possible.
First though, the Senate and House have to work out their differences and approve a final version.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): I think the differences really are fairly minor, and we're going to work very hard to resolve those differences as soon as we can.
WELNA: Republicans have agreed to take part in a conference committee to merge the two chambers' stimulus bills. But House Minority Leader John Boehner made clear that he and his fellow Republicans remain adamantly opposed to that measure, which the House passed without a single GOP vote.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): The plan that's currently on the table tries to take advantage of the crisis in our economy to enact a series of liberal policy proposals that have nothing to do with economic recovery.
WELNA: House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, who's on the conference committee, said that while Republicans think the stimulus bill is too large, he fears that in fact it may be too small.
Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): It is not perfect by any means, and we have substantial, but I hope not overpowering differences between us and the Senate.
WELNA: Those differences are not so much in the size of the two chambers' stimulus plans; the Senate bill costs only about 2 percent more than the House bill. It's more that because Senate Democrats needed to attract a few Republican votes to pass their bill they agreed to a compromise. It boosted the share of tax cuts in their stimulus plan to 44 percent, compared to 34 percent in the House's version.
And to make room for those tax cuts, spending to help states starved for revenue was slashed in half, while money for modernizing schools was eliminated. House Democrat Peter DeFazio of Oregon says those cuts make it much harder to reconcile the two chambers' stimulus bills.
Representative PETER DEFAZIO (Democrat, Oregon): It won't be settled easily if the Senate insists on the changes they've made. I mean, drastic cuts to education, school construction. I mean, their version of the bill has a lot fewer jobs and jobs potential than does ours. So if they're willing to move back in our direction, which I think would be reasonable and I believe the president would support, then sure, it'll go easily.
WELNA: That's very easy to say, says Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, if you ignore the need for compromise. Nelson helped craft the deal that secured the three Republican votes that ensured the measure's passage in the Senate.
Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): If they can come over here and find three other Republicans and do the vote counting, they can probably put anything in it that they like.
WELNA: One of those three Republican senators who voted for the stimulus yesterday was Maine's Susan Collins. She made clear she intends to hold the line on the size of whatever bill the two chambers come up with.
Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): I'm not saying what's in, what's out. I'm just saying that the bottom line must be under 800 billion.
WELNA: Maine's other GOP senator, Olympia Snowe, also voted for the stimulus.
Senator OLYMPIA SNOWE (Republican, Maine): Suffice it to say is, certainly the final package should be consistent with the contours of the Senate-passed package.
WELNA: Yesterday the two Maine senators joined Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, the other Republican who voted for the Senate stimulus, for a meeting in Majority Leader Reid's office with three senior White House officials. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was with those Republicans at the meeting.
Senator MAX BAUCUS (Democrat, Montana): They were there in the room so they're just basically reinforcing their views. But you know, I'm willing to talk and see if there's a way to accommodate the majority party as well as the White House. We're just talking.
WELNA: Majority Leader Reid says he hopes most of the differences between the Senate and the House can be worked out by later today, but he would not say when Congress will send the stimulus package to President Obama.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): I have no deadlines. The only deadline I have is we're going to complete this legislation before we have our recess.
WELNA: And if they don't, Reid says there will be no recess, which is due to start Monday.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.