- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

Senate and House negotiators Wednesday announced a deal on a $789 billion package of spending hikes and tax cuts that is the centerpiece of President Obama’s economic rescue plan.

The agreement represents 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 in a House-Senate conference and approved by both chambers.

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,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said in announcing the deal.

“This agreement involved give-and-take, and if you don’t mind my saying so, that’s an understatement,” Mr. Reid said.

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 that affects large number of middle-clase 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.

Most Republicans oppose President Obama’s stimulus plan, saying it is rife with scattershot spending that will create permanent new government programs, won’t help the beleaguered U.S. economy and risks undercutting a recovery by driving up federal debt.

Mr. Obama, who met with Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prior to the talks to set parameters for the final package, said the massive spending is the country’s best hope for reversing the economic downturn.

With a nearly 80-vote majority in the House, Mrs. Pelosi and House Democrats can push through the final spending bill without any Republican help. But there are pressures within the 255-member Democratic caucus, with some conservative Blue Dogs and centrist New Democrats sympathetic to the Senate bill’s lower spending totals and higher tax cuts.

Republicans after Tuesday’s passage of the Senate version complained both about the substance of the bill and the lack of bipartisanship in putting it together.

Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, challenged Democrats to televise the conference deliberations to ensure openness and prevent any new spending programs from being quietly inserted in the package.

To download a PDF chart comparing the stimulus plans from the House and Senate, click here.

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