House, Senate Strike Deal On Stimulus

Senators announced a compromise between House and Senate negotiators on the economic stimulus package. Some House Democrats are upset that money for states and schools had been removed from the measure, but backed the deal.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Well, we thought there was a deal. Today, Senators paraded before microphones saying a compromise had been struck on a stimulus package between the Senate and the House. They even congratulated each other on the quick work. But now, it turns out, there is still some negotiating to do.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook joins us from the Capitol. Andrea, what's going on?

ANDREA SEABROOK: Well, Melissa, I can tell you that right now top Democrats in the House of Representatives are meeting with leadership to review the deal that the Senators came out, not even an hour ago, saying was done. It turns out there are some last minute snags in the negotiations. House Democrats, specifically those towards the left of the political spectrum are angry that Senators took out of the bill a lot of money for aid to the states and for school reconstruction.

Of course, these things had to be stripped out of the bill to get the extra three votes, or, really, two, but three Republican votes that they needed over on the Senate side to pass this thing. So, it's still a matter of shuttle diplomacy at this point. Sources are telling me that it's not blown up. This is going to happen, but don't call it done, yet.

BLOCK: But where do they reconcile on those issues then? They meet somewhere in the middle, a little bit gone, but some of it put back?

SEABROOK: Well, that's what they had - that's what the Senate deal - the deal that all the Senators said was done, did to this thing. It lifted up the number from $39 billion in aid to the states to $44 billion in aid to the states. Of course, the Senate wanted, I mean, the House of Representatives, Democrats wanted $79 billion. So, you know, it's just numbers, up, down, back, forth.

It's almost like a, you know, it's almost like bartering here, between these two sides. And it's hard to know where it will come down in the end, except that those three Republicans, who seemed to be holding the key to this whole thing, will not vote for anything that is above $790 billion worth of tax cuts and spending. So, it will have to be up to that feeling.

BLOCK: And those three Republicans - Senators: Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

SEABROOK: Yes, those are the three. And interestingly, I've been told by people on all sides that were really the center of gravity of this whole thing. I asked one top Democratic aide if this was getting a glimpse of what the next two years will be like. I mean, the Democrats have super majority in the House. They do not have a super majority in the Senate. They don't have enough to stop filibusters, and so, a tiny handful of Republican Senators can control the whole thing. I asked this aide that - if this is what it was going to look like - he said, gosh, I hope not.

BLOCK: Well, Andrea, as much as you understand, given that there are still some details to be worked out, what's in this compromise?

SEABROOK: Well, this I can tell you. Again, it looks like the top line is going to be $789.5 billion. It breaks down to about 35 percent of the bill in tax cuts, 65 percent would be in spending. There is a deal to bring the individual tax cuts for working families down to $400 for individuals, 800 for couples, $44 billion in aid to the states. Again, that's - people are messing with that number right now.

It adds money to help people buy health insurance through COBRA, a lot of things like that, including, don't forget, money for construction and infrastructure projects.

BLOCK: Okay, and final details still to come.

SEABROOK: Still to come.

BLOCK: NPR's congressional correspondent, Andrea Seabrook. Thanks a lot.

SEABROOK: Thanks.

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Negotiators Reach Stimulus Deal

White House and congressional negotiators reached a compromise Wednesday on an economic recovery plan that carries a reduced price tag of under $800 billion, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

The $789 billion plan pares down some of the tax breaks in the Senate's version of the bill and restores some spending for school repair and construction and state assistance in the House version. The total is lower than the stimulus bills passed separately by the House and Senate.

Reid said more than one-third of the bill is dedicated to tax cuts for the middle class. The Nevada Democrat thanked the three Republican senators who worked to hammer out a compromise — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who broke with their party to support the plan.

"The differences between the Senate and House versions, we've resolved," said Reid. "The bills were really quite similar, and I'm pleased to announce that we've been able to bridge those differences."

Reid said the bill could come up for a vote in the next few days. Specter stressed that time is of the essence.

"The economists are virtually uniform in their prediction that if we do not act, we face the potential consequence of a catastrophe and a depression the likes of 1929," said Specter.

House leaders were not present at the news conference unveiling the compromise.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Reid's partner in negotiations over more than 24 intense hours, initially withheld her approval in a lingering disagreement over federal funding for school construction. "We had to make sure the investment in education" was in the bill, the California Democrat said.

Shortly before the deal was announced, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "We think enormous progress in a very short time has been made." He added that "members of our budget team were up on Capitol Hill until late last night" working on the plan.

Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, one of the negotiators, said 3.5 million jobs will be created by the plan. He said lawmakers agreed to hold the cost well below the cost of both the House and Senate bills.

"This represents the beginning of turning our economy around and getting us back to where we should be," said Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent.

Obama has said he wanted to sign the bill into law by Presidents Day, which is Feb. 16.

Congressional negotiators have worked on a compromise plan since Tuesday, after the Senate narrowly passed an $838 billion measure with support from only three Republicans. The $820 billion House plan, which was passed last month, had no Republican support.

The president has spent much of this week trying to rally support for the economic recovery package. On Wednesday, he visited a construction site in Virginia to call attention to the jobs that would be created by his stimulus plan.

Obama also said that machinery giant Caterpillar Inc. would rehire some of the 20,000 workers it had laid off if Congress approves the bill. The president plans to visit the company's workers in Peoria, Ill., on Thursday.

On Monday, the president held a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., where the unemployment rate is more than 15 percent as recreational vehicle manufacturing has plummeted. "The situation we face could not be more serious. We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and as dire as any since the Great Depression," he told the crowd of 1,700.

He also went to the American people in a televised appeal Monday night as he tried to pressure Congress to act quickly on the stimulus plan.

And Tuesday, he told a crowd in Fort Myers, Fla. — where foreclosures and unemployment are in the double digits — that his economic recovery plan would put people back to work immediately.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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