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Collins, Specter Put Stimulus Over the Top

Updated: 9:38 p.m.

Following a day of tense negotiations in the Senate, Democrats and a handful of Republicans reached a deal Friday evening that would allow them to pass a massive economic stimulus bill in the next few days.

After agreeing to cut $110 billion from the nearly $920 billion bill, Democrats said all 58 members of their caucus appeared to be on board, and at least two Republicans – Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) – seemed prepared to help Democrats meet the 60-vote threshold they need to overcome procedural hurdles that could prevent passage of the bill.

With every Democratic hand on deck, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he is counting on ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to cast a vote in favor of the measure.

It appeared doubtful that a vote could occur Friday night because Republicans who oppose the bill are unlikely to allow a vote on the amendment cutting funds from the bill, making final passage later this weekend or early next week more likely.

“I would doubt if it would occur tonight,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he was preparing to file a motion to limit debate, or invoke cloture, on the amendment, with a potential vote on Sunday. He said he hopes to vote on final passage Monday, but conceded that Republicans could throw up additional procedural hurdles that would delay final action.

But the delays may give Senators time to resolve confusion among themselves over how many billions of dollars that had been added to the bill over the past week would be erased by the compromise amendment. The uncertainty made it difficult to predict whether the final bill would be approximately $780 billion or $826 billion. The larger number would reflect additions during this week’s Senate debate.

Still, Reid and other Democratic leaders declared victory.

“Because of the courage of three Republican Members and because of the flexibility of our Democratic caucus, which certainly didn’t get everything it wanted, we came together behind President Obama’s plan,” Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) said. “Everyone had to give a little, and thank God more than 60 have.”

The compromise amendment, devised by Collins, Specter and Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joseph Lieberman (ID-Conn.) in consultation with Reid and the White House, includes a combination of roughly $85 billion in spending cuts and $25 billion slashed from the bill’s tax provisions.

Democrats praised Collins and Specter – along with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who they expect to support the measure – for breaking with the majority of their party to help push the bill over the finish line.

“They’ve chosen to separate themselves from the Republican caucus, because they believe it’s in the national interest,” Lieberman said.

But Collins said she hoped more than just three Republicans would support both the amendment and the final bill.

“There are some of our colleagues who are taking a look at the details,” she said. “I’m hopeful that we may see a couple more Republican votes.”

But McConnell ridiculed the agreement, which he said despite cuts would carry a hefty price tag.

“As near as we can tell, even after those efforts, it is roughly the same size as the House bill,” McConnell said. “According to the figures I’ve been given, the House bill is about $820 billion. The Senate bill, under the compromise, we believe, would be about $827 billion.”

McConnell’s estimates include amendments that have been added on the Senate floor.

The biggest cuts in the amendment come at the expense of education programs. The group decided to completely eliminate $16 billion in school construction funding as well as $3.5 billion for “higher education facilities.” Health care programs also got the ax, with $5.8 billion for pandemic flu preparedness and $2 billion for “prevention and wellness” being cut.

Additionally, the amendment proposes to scale back funding for states from $79 billion to $39 billion.

Though reductions to education and health care funding along with other programs near and dear to Democrats’ hearts were difficult for the majority to swallow, they said they were willing to support the bill and the amendment in order to get it into a House-Senate conference, and closer to President Barack Obama’s desk.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said the key for her was that the measure “maintains its core focus on creating jobs.”

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he was pleased with the final deal and that he believed they have “61, maybe more” votes.

Baucus explained that $25 billion of the Finance Committee’s total part of the original proposal had been eliminated, representing some $18 billion in tax cuts and $7 billion in health-related spending.

Although details of the areas that have been cut from the spending side were unclear and actual text of the bill will not be ready for at least one more day, Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said a host of areas were slashed. “There are cuts in many different places,” he said.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said that given the fact that the bill now has enough support to meet the 60-vote threshold, any additional holdups would be purely partisan and that he hoped Republicans would allow a vote Friday night. “Anything beyond this is just politics,” he said, while praising the GOP pair for working with Democrats to pass the measure. “I want to salute Susan Collins, Arlen Specter and others, because they’ve taken a lot of heat.”

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