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House Democrats no-shows at stimulus meeting
Senate negotiators Wednesday postponed a conference committee meeting to nail down a $789 billion stimulus package after House Democrats, unhappy with spending cuts in the compromise legislation, failed to show up.
“House Democrats don’t like this bill,” Rep. Joe Barton, Texas Republican and ranking minority member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told reporters in the meeting room. “This [meeting] was supposed to start 30 minutes ago, and none of them are here.”
Mr. Barton, who also complained about being shut out of the negotiations, said he had received word from people close to the talks that House Democrats did not want to accept the spending cuts made to win key Senate Republican votes.
Moments later, Sen. Daniel Inouye, Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced a postponement of the bargaining session. He said that House Democratic leaders just then were being briefed on details of the package.
The sudden glitch manifested itself just after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, announced the deal on a package of spending hikes and tax cuts that is the centerpiece of President Obama’s economic rescue plan.
The agreement would have represented a lower overall figure than the versions approved by the Senate and House earlier and could be ready for Mr. Obama’s signature by the end of the week. The deal still must be formally ratified by the House-Senate conference and approved by both chambers.
Despite the delay in the conference meeting, Sen. Ben Nelson, a centrist Nebraska Democrat deeply involved in the talks, said, “If we hadn’t had an understanding, we wouldn’t have had a press conference.”
Three Republican senators who provided the key votes for passage of the Senate bill endorsed the compromise measure Wednesday, virtually ensuring it will pass the chamber. No House Republicans voted for the original bill.
“The time has come to bring everybody together,” Sen. Olympia Snowe, Maine Republican, told reporters.
The compromise bill “creates more jobs than the original Senate bill and costs less than the original House bill,” Mr. Reid said. “This agreement involved give-and-take, and if you don’t mind my saying so, that’s an understatement.”
The compromise includes Mr. Obama’s signature tax cut for middle- and low-income taxpayers, a central plank of his presidential campaign. It includes massive amounts of new spending and aid for those hurt by the recession in the form of jobless benefits, food stamps, health coverage, and aid to state and local governments facing declining revenues.
In a victory for the Senate, the package includes a temporary suspension of the alternative minimum tax, which affects a large number of middle-class taxpayers.
The bottom-line figure of $789 billion is also a victory for Senate moderates, who warned that a price tag of $800 billion or more could sink the deal.
A separate line item for $16 billion in school construction and renovation, a priority of liberal House Democrats, was not included in the compromise, but a general account for aid to states — which could include school construction — was boosted from the Senate mark of $39 billion to $54 billion.
By Brahma Chellaney
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