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Pressure From All Sides

February 10, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

With the economic stimulus package (H.R. 1) now cleared by both the House and the Senate, Democratic leaders are facing pressure from everyone who helped them get this far to change the bill before they bring it back for a final vote.

Since the House and Senate passed different versions of the bill, a conference committee made up of members from both parties will convene to hammer out the differences. There are some big ones – chief among them are the Senate’s addition of an Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) patch and drastic cuts to state education funds. Democrats in the conference committee will be trying to work out a sweet spot that keeps their party together and retains what little Republican support they have.

The basic decision Democrats need to make is whether to move the bill closer to what was passed by the House and risk losing a crucial Republican vote (or three) in the Senate, or move it closer to the Senate’s version and drop some Democrats in the House off of the left.

In the House, the legislation passed with 26 votes to spare. Yesterday, the Progressive Caucus, which, at 71 members, is the largest caucus in the House, sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi expressing their concerns with the Senate version of the stimulus. Depending on how serious they are, this could be fatal for the stimulus.

Congress Daily ($):

>"Simply put, the Senate-passed version will not address the urgent fiscal, social, and educational needs of this country," the letter said. “In fact, we fear that we may only get one bite at this apple. Therefore, we must take this opportunity to act boldly now.”
>House Democratic leaders continue to bristle at the Senate compromise. Over the weekend, Pelosi raised concerns about the cut to the state fiscal stabilization fund.
>Sources in a closed-door Democratic leadership meeting Monday evening said that members remain generally angry about the cuts.

If even half of the Progressive Caucus decides to vote against the bill if the Senate’s cuts are included, they could make it virtually impossible for the conference committee to create a compromise that will pass the Senate.

There’s a lot less wiggling room in the Senate. Democrats hold a 58-seat majority there, which means that, for most votes, they need to pick off at least two Republicans. The Senate passed their version of the bill with three Republican votes in favor – only one vote to spare. Today, at least two of the three Republicans that voted with the Democrats stated that they reserve the right to change their “aye” votes to “nays” if the bill that comes back from the conference committee is not to their liking. Losing them both would cause the bill to fail in the Senate.

Arlen Specter (R-PA): “My support for the Conference Report on the stimulus package will require that the Senate compromise bill come back virtually intact including, but not limited to, overall spending, the current ratio of tax cuts to spending, and the $110 billion in cuts.”

Susan Collins (R-ME): “I have made it very clear that if the bill comes back with a lot of the unnecessary expenditures crammed back in it with deep cuts in the tax relief provided to the American people than the Democrats will lose my vote.”

UPDATE: Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson, one of the chief negotiators of the Senate’s bill, has joined Specter and Collins in warning against making any big changes in the conference committee:

>Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, who carved out a kingmaker role at the center (literally) of the stimulus fight, is warning House Democrats he won’t support anything that differs very much from the Senate bill that will pass easily tonight.
>"It can’t be materially different as to the topline [of about $830 billion] or as to the pieces in the package," he tells Politico.
>But he left a little bit of daylight, saying he’s “never said never” about anything.
>Asked if he could accept the restoration of education aid to the states, he replied: “If they [the House leadership] can persuade the three Republicans” who voted for the stimulus cloture last night “they could do that” — suggesting he wouldn’t be swayed unless there were major House cuts to other parts of the program.

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  • Anonymous 02/10/2009 7:27am

    It is simply sad that there are only three Republicans in the Senate with the courage of Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. The country sorely needs action and the rest of the Republicans are simply so out of touch that they are merrily playing the same games they have been playing for the last several years. Note to the Progressive Caucus – PLEASE do not play the same games. Let’s get this thing moving and get this country back to the business at hand.

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 02/10/2009 11:04am

    It is sad alright. It’s sad that those 3 voted for that piece of junk bill. The rest of the Republicans had it right and did not vote for it because the people they WORK FOR did not want this PORK Bill. Obama is a Marxist and we need to do everything we can to STOP him and his cronies.
    I believe it’s time Congress remember they work for us the people and not to pull crap like this.

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 02/11/2009 6:44am

    The three are turncoats.

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 02/11/2009 8:06am

    Thjis is a bunch of hogwash!!!!

  • Anonymous 02/10/2009 7:35am

    Regardless of where one might stand on this issue, as a practical matter, where do citizens with an opinion now apply pressure? Reps and Senators from our district only? House and Senate leadership? Conferees only, even if they do not represent us? Across the board?

  • donnyshaw 02/10/2009 10:59am

    Great question. You always have the most influence with your own Rep and Sens, but in this case I’d say it’s also advisable to call the offices of the swing votes. So, in the Senate – Specter, Collins, Snowe, Nelson (NE). In the House – Progressive Caucus, Blue Dogs, the Dems that voted “no” on the stimulus the first time around.

  • pdorsett 02/11/2009 3:09am

    SAD!!! Very sad that our Senate has come to this selflish conclusion!Spend Spend Spend and TAX TAX TAX that’s our HOPE and CHANGE. OBAMA your not my MAN. The young have to learn the hard way…. but these “BRILLIANT” Senators know better! Shame on you all! Your not listening to American People on this one .WRONG WRONG WRONG on this Pork Bill. Why don’t you Men and WOMEN READ the Bill. I don’t want personal health information on some Governmnet Data base. Look at the mistakes the Government has made at the VA Hospitals with our VETS. Look at how they are turned away and not covered and have to pay if they are not disabled or meeting some rule or needing some paper. Months of waiting for appointments!! Government health care is the last thing we need the Government to squander and screw up!! Throw this Recovery out OBAMA its not Change and not the right answer. And how about being fair and giving every American a house; Kitchen and our own bathroom like the lady in Florida? Didn’t think you could. You sir, are not fair and you DO play class against class, rich and poor, Black and White. You don’t unite. You do know how to divide a nation, frightened a nation, lie and double talk to a nation, waste our time listening to ramblings and saying nothing.
    Go to your office, get on your knees and trying praying for God to help you. In God we Trust…not OBAMA.

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 02/11/2009 8:09am

    Look at how many government data bases have been breached in the past year or so! Do you want your medical records out there for any hacker to get at and publish to the world or to use as blackmail? Wake up, America.

  • Anonymous 02/11/2009 8:04am

    Pence from Indiana said the Republicans are not allowed to participate in the conference committee. How can this Administration say that they are bipartisan when Pelosi and Reid are running the show as pure ideologues!

  • heftyjake 02/11/2009 11:59am

    They should break the bill into smaller portions and vote on each piece seperately. There’s enough pork in this bill to fund a small country for 10 years. Surely fiscall responsibility is not the goal of this bill. It’s a counter punch to the huge stimulus that the Republicans already spent. This is an unimaginable amount of money. How about the instead divide the 800+billion between every tax payer that makes less than 75,000 a year. Maybe then I could get ahead enough to spend some money. We are so F-ed.

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