- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009


The White House and Democrat-controlled Congress struck a deal Wednesday for a $789 billion stimulus package, preserving the heart of President Obama’s plan to spur the economy with government spending and targeted tax cuts after trimming some initiatives during pressure-filled negotiations.

Top Democrats worked into the night Wednesday behind closed doors to finalize the details, but all the major differences between the House and Senate bills appeared resolved after an interparty dust-up delayed negotiations during the day.

The bill “creates more jobs than the original Senate bill and costs less than the original House bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “This agreement involved give-and-take, and if you don’t mind my saying so, that’s an understatement.”

A public conference committee meeting that included Republican leaders was convened briefly to work on the bill. But after a series of speeches and no negotiations, Democrats adjourned the meeting and retreated to their offices to complete the bill in private.

The final bill could go to a vote in the House as early as Thursday, then proceed to the Senate as lawmakers rushed to meet a Friday deadline set by President Obama.

Republicans said they were shut out of the process, despite support for the compromise from three Senate Republicans whose votes all but guarantee passage of the final package.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia said Republicans were “kept in the dark” during final negotiations to reconcile the Senate’s $838 billion bill and the $819 billion House-passed version.

“My question is: What is the majority trying to hide by never allowing any ventilation of ideas, any discussion of what we have brought forward as the Republican vision to stimulate this economy?” he said.

Mr. Obama, who visited a highway construction site in Springfield, Va., early in the day to push for the stimulus bill, argued for passage by citing specifically what he said was a pledge from giant heavy-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. to rehire at least some of the 20,000 workers the Illinois company recently announced it was laying off.

“Just today, the CEO of Caterpillar said that if this American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is passed, his company would be able to rehire some of the employees they´ve been forced to lay off,” he said.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet with Caterpillar officials in Peoria, Ill., on Thursday to continue boosting popular support for his plan. But despite the president’s assurance, Caterpillar is not offering to make any changes in its staffing if the stimulus plan becomes law, a spokesman said.

“I’m not aware that we’ve promised to do anything,” Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan said. “We don’t at this point know what’s in the package.

“If the stimulus package is approved and if those projects are appropriate and thoughtful and can be quickly enacted, and if our orders pick up and we need to bring people back, we will certainly do that,” Mr. Dugan said.

Democratic leaders said the final bill will consist of about $514 billion of spending and $275 billion in tax cuts, including a temporary suspension of the alternative minimum tax that affects a large number of middle-class taxpayers and was a priority for Senate Republicans.

But the compromise also reduced a $15,000 tax credit for homebuyers for which Republicans fought, said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat.

The compromise includes Mr. Obama’s signature tax cut for middle- and low-income taxpayers, a central plank of his presidential campaign. It also 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.

Earlier, a deal announced by Mr. Reid was called into doubt when House Democratic leaders did not show up for the conference committee meeting.

The meeting had to be postponed for about three hours while Democratic leaders ironed out differences over spending in the bill, including $16 billion for school construction that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, desperately wanted added to the final package.

The line item for school construction and renovation was not included, but a general account for aid to states that could go to school projects was boosted from the Senate’s mark of $39 billion to $54 billion.

“We have come to an agreement with the Senate as to how we will go forward and I think people are happy about that,” Mrs. Pelosi said after meeting with the Democratic Caucus.

The deal still must be formally ratified by the House-Senate conference and approved by both chambers.

Three Republican senators who provided the key votes for passage of the Senate bill - Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, both of Maine - endorsed the tentative compromise, virtually ensuring it will pass the chamber.

No House Republicans voted for the original bill.

“The time has come to bring everybody together,” Mrs. Snowe told reporters.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the agreement appeared to fall far short of a bipartisan bill.

“I’ve got to tell you that with everything I’m hearing about this so-called deal, I’m very disappointed,” Mr. Boehner said. “It appears that congressional Democrats have made a bad bill worse by reducing tax relief for working families to pay for more wasteful government spending.”

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