Negotiators have resolved the differences between the House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill, Sen. Harry Reid said Wednesday.
“The bills were really quite similar, and I’m please to announce that we’ve been able to bridge those differences,” said Reid, the Senate majority leader. “Like any negotiation, this involved give and take, and if you don’t mind my saying so, that’s an understatement,” he said. Negotiators worked late into the night to iron out differences between the two versions of the stimulus bill. President Obama said he wanted the bill on his desk by Presidents Day, which is next Monday. Reid praised the three “brave” GOP senators who broke ranks to the support the bill: Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Watch Reid describe the deal » Of the 219 Republicans in Congress, they were the only three to back the bill. “Today we have shown that, working together, we can address the enormous economic crisis facing our country,” Collins said. Collins said the agreement has a price tag of $789 billion, less than both the House and Senate versions. Reid said this middle ground creates more jobs than original Senate bill, and spends less than the original House bill. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, summed up the bill as a “jobs bill.” “Today you might call us the ‘jobs squad,’ ” said Nelson, one of the key negotiators. “Because that’s what we’re attempting to do: to make sure that people will have the opportunity to hang on to their jobs that they have today, and they’ll be able to get jobs if they lose their jobs.” Multiple Democratic sources had offered details on topics that had to be worked out: 35 percent of the bill would be tax cuts; 65 percent would be spending. Tax breaks for workers that had been set at $1,000 per family or $500 per individual would be scaled back to $800 per family and $400 per individual. $44 billion in aid to states, including money for education and other services. More funding to help people buy health insurance through the federal COBRA program. $6 billion to $9 billion for modernizing and repairing schools. The funding for schools is intended to assuage House Democrats who are upset that the Senate cut $20 billion for school construction.
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The emphasis on “modernizing and repairing” is meant to appease Senate centrists who believe that school “construction” takes too long and therefore won’t stimulate the economy, and that state governments, not the federal government, should be responsible for building schools Montana Sen. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said it is possible the House could take the bill up as early as Thursday and the Senate possibly Friday. Democrats in the Senate must hold on to at least two Republican votes in order to get the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. Not a single Republican voted in support of the House version of the bill, but the House Democrats have a large enough majority that they were still able to pass it. iReport.com: Share your thoughts on the stimulus package The three Republican senators who voted in favor of the package indicated Wednesday that they were pleased with the agreement. “As I said, unless the bill remained virtually in tact from what the agreement was last Friday, my support would be conditional on that, and we got there,” Specter said. “I think it is an important component of putting America back on its feet.” Specter said earlier Wednesday that he’s aware of the political danger he’s putting himself in but that action is needed to pump up the ailing economy.
“I understand the peril, but I didn’t run for the United States Senate to further my own political interests,” he said on CNN’s “American Morning.” When asked about the possible political backlash from his vote supporting the bill, Specter said. “It’s a good plan, not a perfect plan. But a good plan, and I’ll take my chances.”