- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2009

Senators from both parties worked feverishly Thursday to cut up to $100 billion from President Obama’s economic recovery package, seeking to win over Republican lawmakers and a public increasingly pained by what it sees as a bloated spending bill short on stimulus.

The Senate labored into the night debating and voting on more than a dozen amendments, as it awaited the results of a bipartisan effort to whittle between $50 billion and $100 billion of controversial spending from the plan.

About 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, led by Sens. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, were working to eliminate such things as $198 million for payments to Filipino veterans of World War II, $122.5 million for new and renovated Coast Guard polar-class icebreaker vessels and $61 million for State Department diplomatic and consular programs.

Even without the finished product, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats already have secured just enough votes to pass the more than $900 billion bill.

Mr. Obama personally intervened to wrangle support among Republicans.

But the Senate bill must be reconciled with the $819 billion version approved by the House. Not a single House Republican supported that bill and there are signs of a brewing insurrection by the chamber’s conservative Democrats over run-away spending.

Leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 47 conservative House Democrats, put Speaker Nancy Pelosi on notice Thursday that more of the wasteful spending must be cut from the stimulus to win their continued support.

“While a number of Blue Dogs voted against the package considered in the House, many of those who did support it did so with serious reservations and the conviction that the package should and would be improved through Senate consideration,” said the letter to Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat.

The letter was signed by the seven leaders of the coalition, including Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, Rep. Baron P. Hill of Indiana and Rep. Charlie Melancon of Louisiana.

Added support from Senate Republicans and conservative Democrats, such as Sen. Marry L. Landrieu of Louisiana, likely hinges on an amendment that would slice between $50 billion and $100 billion from the bill.

The measure by Mrs. Collins and Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, is expected to eliminate some controversial spending items and reduce the amount spent on some programs.

About a dozen Senate Democrats have either voiced support for their effort or proposed cuts, including $198 million for payments to Filipino veterans of World War II, $122.5 million for new and renovated Coast Guard polar-class icebreaker vessels, and $61 million for State Department diplomatic and consular programs.

“I take very serious what they’re trying to do,” Mr. Reid said. “I don’t think there’s a single person who had attended those meetings with Senator Nelson and Senator Collins who is not interested in helping our country. The question is, do they work in an effort to strengthen the bill or destroy the bill. And I think they’ll work with us to strengthen the bill.”

“But if they think they’re going to rewrite this bill and Barack Obama is going to walk away from what he was trying to implement, they’ve got another thought coming,” Mr. Reid said.

Other spending items that have attracted criticism and could be targeted by Mr. Nelson and Mrs. Collins include $25 million to fix up trails for all-terrain vehicle and $524 million for a State Department program that critics say would create just 388 jobs that’s $1.35 million per job.

The stimulus’ price tag ballooned to more than $900 billion as the Senate added $11 billion in tax incentives for new car purchases and $6.5 billion more for the National Institutes of Health.

The chamber also added a measure by Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, that would give up to a $15,000 tax credit to homebuyers in hopes of spurring the housing industry.

But minor tweaks to the bill have not satisfied Senate Republicans, who are expected to mount a filibuster if major cuts are not made.

“The addition of the homebuyer tax credit does not mean Senator Isakson is a ‘yes’ vote on final passage by any stretch,” his chief of staff, Joan Kirchner, said. “There are many more amendments to be voted on and he will wait to see the final bill before deciding how he will vote on cloture or final passage.”

Democratic leaders want the stimulus on the president’s desk by Feb. 13, when Congress takes a weeklong recess.

Sean Lengell contributed to this article.

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