Stimulus Bill Passes Congress

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announces agreement on stimulus.

Congressional negotiators are closing in on a final version of a sweeping economic recovery package, and the bill could be voted on by both the House and Senate by Friday.

Multiple sources have confirmed that the new plan is budgeted at $789 billion, a figure smaller than in the bill that emerged from the House last month and the one approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

It appears that House Democrats have succeeded in restoring some funds that were stripped out by a group of Senate moderates last week, including $44 billion in aid to struggling state governments and $6 billion for school construction and modernization. Both line items were important to the White House.

Those additions ostensibly will be offset by reductions in tax breaks in the Senate plan, although Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said this afternoon that 35% of the bill would still be devoted to tax cuts.

“There are the votes there for passage, that is clear,” Baucus said during a break in negotiations. He said there had been compromise on all sides and described the process as “nip and tuck” and “shaving here and there.”

Added Baucus: “Everybody is working toward an agreement.”

But Sen. Tom Harkin, a liberal Democrat from Iowa, said fellow Democrats had surrendered too much in a bid to accommodate three moderate Republicans who can ensure passage in the Senate.

“I think our side gave in too much in order to appease a few people,” he said in a hallway interview in the Capitol. Harkin said Democrats should have dared Republicans to filibuster and “see what the public outcry” would have been. “I think the people are getting shortchanged.”

Negotiators have scheduled a public session later today, when the outline of a deal may be presented. And the House could vote on the package as early as Thursday, with the Senate following on Friday.

What remains unclear is whether the three moderate Republicans who supported the $838-billion Senate bill — Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania — would support the agreement. They, along with some moderate Democrats, have suggested that if the bill deviates too much from the Senate package, they will not vote for it.

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