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Congress Reaches Deal On Stimulus Package


NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: House and Senate negotiators from both parties gathered around a table last night in the Capitol's ornate Lyndon Baines Johnson Room. They were there to formally approve the deal merging the stimulus bills passed by each chamber into one. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reminded them of the political feat it took to come so close to the finishing line.

HARRY REID: The reason that we're today is three very brave people: two senators from Maine and a senator from Pennsylvania.

WELNA: So the votes of those three breakaway senators were crucial, and all three ended up with a considerable say in shaping the size and shape of last night's deal. Susan Collins of Maine is one of the renegades.

SUSAN COLLINS: I'm particularly pleased that we have produced an agreement that has the top line of $789 billion. That is less than either the House or the Senate-passed bills.

WELNA: Another Republican backing the deal, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, said he would've preferred a much smaller stimulus plan made up of tax cuts.

ARLEN SPECTER: This is obviously a very difficult vote in view of the large deficit and national debt which we have. But I believe it is indispensable that strong action be taken.

WELNA: The final version of the stimulus package is 64 percent spending and 36 percent tax cuts. Maine's other Republican senator, Olympia Snowe, has also endorsed the deal.

OLYMPIA SNOWE: It's right sized because the president is right. If we're losing $2 trillion in demand between this year and next year, then we have to backfill this economy with a fiscal stimulus approach.

WELNA: But GOP Congressional leaders had nothing good to say about the grand compromise that's been struck. House Minority Leader John Boehner said he was very disappointed.

JOHN BOEHNER: It appears that they've made a bad bill worse by reducing the amount of tax relief for American families and small businesses and adding more wasteful Washington spending.

WELNA: In the end, though, Speaker Nancy Pelosi settled for less than what she hoped for.

NANCY PELOSI: We have come to an agreement with the Senate as to how we'll go forward, and I think people are pretty happy about that.

WELNA: Some Democrats, though, question whether the stimulus was big enough to do the job. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey noted that many will look only at its $789 billion price tag.

DAVID OBEY: And it looks awfully big until you divide it into two-and-a-half years, and then you see that the fiscal thrust represented by this package is, if anything, understated and inadequate to the task.

WELNA: But the cold political reality is that the package Congress has come up with is likely the biggest Democrats could get without losing their three crucial Senate GOP allies. Last night, Senator Majority Leader Reid said with its swift action on the stimulus, Congress has brought things to a turning point.

REID: We cannot say for certain when the crisis will end, but we do know for certain that this is when the recovery must begin, the minute this bill is on the president's desk for signature.

WELNA: 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.