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Democrats, Republicans Work To Trim Stimulus


This is MORNING EDITION. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The Senate's Democratic leaders will try again today to do what they failed to do last night - put together enough support to pass the gigantic economic stimulus package that President Obama requested. The price tag on the Senate's version has risen to $937 billion.

But moderate Democrats and Republicans are working to pare that figure down by about $100 billion. Much is riding on their attempt to do so, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: President Obama would like a stimulus package on his desk ready to sign a week from now. For that to happen, the Senate would have to pass its plan, blend it with a similar measure the House passed last week, and then both chambers would have to approve a final bill.

With the clock ticking down, the president yesterday turned up the heat on Congress to move quickly. If it doesn't, he warned a gathering of House Democrats in Williamsburg, Virginia, last night, an economy already in crisis will be faced with catastrophe.

President BARACK OBAMA: We're not moving quickly because we're trying to jam something down people's throats. We're moving quickly because we're told that if we don't move quickly that the economy is going to keep on getting worse. We'll have another 2 or 3 or 4 million jobs lost this year.

WELNA: At about the same time on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid was also turning up the heat. He told his colleagues they would have to keep working throughout the night to get to a final vote on the stimulus bill.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): The reason we need to work through the night, I can't imagine what would happen to the financial markets tomorrow if there was a report that this bill would go down.

WELNA: But a couple of hours later, Reid relented. He said he'd made up his mind.

Sen. REID: That we're going to stop legislating tonight, come back tomorrow, come in at 10 o'clock, go immediately to the bill.

WELNA: Reid called off the all-nighter to give more time to the group of moderate Democrats and Republicans trying to reach agreement on paring back the bill. Maine Republican Susan Collins said Republicans agreed with President Obama, that the two-year plan should not cost more than $800 billion.

Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): We're talking about both cuts in the spending but also refocusing the spending. For example, I would like to see more money in infrastructure, because I think that's stimulative, it creates jobs, and it's needed.

WELNA: Another member of the group, Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, called the size and the shape of the bill the main sticking points.

Senator CLAIRE MCCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri): And so you try to please some people with the amount, and then there's people that don't like the composition. So then you try to fix the composition, and then someone doesn't like the amount. So it is harder than it looks, but we're close.

WELNA: President Obama's opponent last November, Arizona Republican John McCain, has in the past joined bipartisan efforts to reach compromise - but not this time.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): The stimulus package would be a disaster for our children and our grandchildren.

WELNA: McCain proposed a stimulus package costing less than half what Senate Democrats came up with. But his measure, consisting mainly of a yearlong holiday from payroll taxes, was rejected last night in a party line vote. New York Democrat Charles Schumer says President Obama's goal of 80 votes in the Senate for the stimulus would require making too many concessions to Republicans.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): We'd rather pass a good bill with 65 votes than a bill that doesn't work with 80 votes. The real test is whether this bill is going to work, and the key number is the number of jobs created, not the number of votes.

WELNA: Still, at least a couple of Republicans will have to vote with Democrats for the stimulus to move forward.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.