From the New York Times:
Congressional negotiators announced Wednesday afternoon that they had reached agreement on a $789 billion economic stimulus bill, clearing the way for final action and President Obama’s signature.
“The differences between the House and Senate versions, we’ve resolved,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said in a Capitol news conference. The differences were resolved by a lot of intense “give and take,” Mr. Reid said, “and if you don’t mind my saying so, that’s an understatement.”
Negotiations had been going on all day, following extensive talks on Tuesday night, to close the gap between the Senate and House versions. In the end, the agreed-upon package will pare back Democrats’ proposed spending on education and health programs in favor of tax cuts that were needed to win Republican votes in the Senate.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a centrist Republican whose support was crucial to the outcome, said the final package includes $150 billion in spending on infrastructure, including transportation facilities, and considerable tax relief. Moreover, she said, it includes significant money to aid state governments.
Despite intense lobbying by governors, the final deal slashed $35 billion from a proposed state fiscal stabilization fund, eliminated $16 billion in aid for school construction and sharply curtailed health care subsidies for the unemployed.
In driving down the total cost of the stimulus bill — from $838 billion approved by the Senate and $820 by the House — legislators also sharply reduced proposed tax incentives for buyers of homes and cars that held huge public appeal. Senator Collins said getting the final number to under $800 billion was more than symbolic; it meant “a fiscally responsible number,” she said.
But the final bill retained a $70 billion tax cut that would spare millions of middle-class Americans from paying the alternative minimum tax in 2009, which some Democrats decried as wasting a large chunk of the bill on something that would do little to lift the economy and that Congress would have approved regardless of the recession.
A couple of thoughts come to mind. Like I said this morning, no one is going to be 100% happy, but that’s what you get when you have a functioning democracy that actually listens to all sides. Second, for all the nattering from the right wing about how weakened or amateurish Mr. Obama may seem to them, getting this passed by both houses of Congress with basically everything he asked for — tax cuts for the middle class and money for the states — 22 days after being sworn in and having it on his desk by the date he aimed for pretty much puts the lie to all that talk.
Finally, it will be interesting to see how many of the Republican members of Congress who didn’t vote for it during the first round — all of them — will vote for this version. Was the first time around just a gesture to show how they weren’t going to be rolled by the Obama charm offensive and will they stick to their vote and let it pass without their support, or will they vote for it when it actually means something? Should be interesting.
Update: Okay, not so fast. Apparently there’s still a sticking point over $10 billion for school construction and modernization; the Democrats want it back in, the Republicans don’t want the feds telling local school boards how to spend money… like they don’t already now? Anyway, the compromise seems to be that the money would be funneled through the state. And the beat goes on.
Update II: Now it’s done.