Stimulus Bill Heads To Conference Following Senate passage of the stimulus bill Tuesday, Democratic leaders say they will hold a marathon House-Senate conference to work out differences in the two chambers' measures. Both sides are committed to getting this bill on President Barack Obama's desk by the weekend.
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Stimulus Bill Heads To Conference

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Stimulus Bill Heads To Conference

Stimulus Bill Heads To Conference

Stimulus Bill Heads To Conference

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Following Senate passage of the stimulus bill Tuesday, Democratic leaders say they will hold a marathon House-Senate conference to work out differences in the two chambers' measures. Both sides are committed to getting this bill on President Barack Obama's desk by the weekend.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Andrea Seabrook has that story.

ANDREA SEABROOK: You might think that now that the economic stimulus package has passed both the House and the Senate, we'd have a good idea of what will be in the final bill. Well, not necessarily. There's a lot to be worked out in this multibillion-dollar spending and tax-cut measure. The House and Senate versions are very different, and Democrats can't push it through the Senate by themselves. So, the fate of this bill hangs on the votes of just three Senate Republicans willing to vote with Democrats: Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

BLOCK: I've made very clear that I cannot vote for a package of that size.

SEABROOK: This is Collins, surrounded by a throng of reporters as she goes down a staircase in the Senate today. Collins is objecting to the size of the stimulus package. And because she and Snowe and Specter effectively hold the keys to this bill, they are suddenly very powerful. Whatever happens now to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions must please them, or it could tank the whole thing.

BLOCK: It seems to me that our goal ought to be something similar to what Senator Nelson and I worked out at 780 billion.

SEABROOK: That's tens of billions of dollars less than the House passed and after that agreement, the Senate version got bigger than the House's. The three Republicans also insisted on cutting direct aid to the states by tens of billions of dollars, and they chopped out the money for new school construction altogether. These cuts do not make House Democrats happy or, as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said facetiously...

SEABROOK: Well, I'm shocked that the Senate would say this is the bill we passed, take it or leave it.

SEABROOK: Hoyer said negotiations will start immediately in what's called a conference committee, and they won't be pretty.

SEABROOK: Obviously, we're confronted with the reality that if you have three people say, look, if you change anything, we're jumping ship - you know, that's going to affect the tenor of the conference.

SEABROOK: Actually, negotiations really began days ago between the major players in the House, the Senate and the White House in tucked-away offices, behind closed doors, and on private conference calls. And now, the pressure is on.

BLOCK: We are hemorrhaging jobs.

SEABROOK: New York Senator Chuck Schumer; he's a Democrat.

BLOCK: This package certainly doesn't have everything I want or any single member wants, but for the sake of this country, we all must give and come together, and get it passed - not only passing on the floor today, but getting this passed in conference quickly because every day we wait, more are laid off.

SEABROOK: Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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Senate Approves Stimulus Plan

The Senate approved an $838 billion economic stimulus bill with scant Republican backing Tuesday, setting the stage for negotiations to work out differences with a bill already passed by the House.

The Senate bill passed on a 61-37 vote, with only three Republicans voting for the package. The approval came as President Obama tried to rally support for quick passage of his economic recovery plan in a Florida community dragged down by double-digit foreclosures and unemployment.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania broke with their party and supported the bill.

Specter said in an opinion piece in The Washington Post on Monday that he had no choice but to support the package. "I am supporting the economic stimulus package for one simple reason: The country cannot afford not to take action," he wrote.

House, Senate Bills Differ

The Senate and House bills have some key difference that may be difficult to reconcile. The Senate version contains more tax cuts — including a $15,000 tax credit for homebuyers — and it cuts spending for school construction and state governments.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to restore some spending, criticizing the Senate for cutting money to rebuild schools.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said finding a compromise won't be easy.

"Obviously, we are confronted with the reality of three people saying, 'Look, if you change anything we are jumping ship.' That is something that will change the tenor of the conference, and that's not a position we ought to be in," he said, referring to the three Republicans who supported the bill.

Hoyer said negotiations on a compromise could go through the middle of next week.

Obama Wants Quick Passage

But Obama has said he wants to sign the bill into law by Presidents Day — and he's appealing directly to the public for support.

Speaking in Fort Myers, Fla., Obama said the plan would save or create 3 million to 4 million jobs over the next two years, extend unemployment benefits, provide job training assistance, provide a tax credit for college students and give tax relief for middle-class workers and families.

"Folks here in Fort Myers and across America need help. They need action, and they need it now," Obama said.

Lee County, where Fort Myers is located, illustrates the key weaknesses in the U.S. economy. The community has been stung by double-digit unemployment and foreclosures, as well as falling home values. The county's unemployment rate stands at 10 percent, and the home foreclosure rate is 12.5 percent, according to The Miami Herald.

Obama said his plan would create jobs building wind turbines and solar panels, upgrading schools, computerizing the health care system, building broadband Internet lines and rebuilding crumbling roads, bridges, dams and levees.

"This plan will put people back to work right now," Obama told the crowd. He also promised to unveil a housing strategy in the coming weeks that would aid homeowners facing foreclosure, not just banks.

Bipartisan Support

Joined by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, Obama encouraged bipartisan support for his plan, saying, "When the town is burning, you don't check party labels. Everybody needs to grab a hose."

It was the second day in a row that the president reached out for public support. On Monday, he held a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., where the unemployment rate is more than 15 percent because of the steep decline in the manufacturing of recreational vehicles.

"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 1,700 Hoosiers gathered for the town hall meeting.

And Monday night, he took to the airwaves in a televised appeal for support.

Obama also plans to visit two Illinois communities later this week as he tries to pressure Congress to act quickly on the plan.

From NPR and wire reports