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Voinovich Drops Out of Stimulus Talks

Updated: 3:42 p.m. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) has pulled out of negotiations on a bipartisan compromise on the Senate’s economic stimulus bill. Three Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) — continue to negotiate with Democrats, but Voinovich’s departure could make it more difficult for Democrats to reach the 60 votes they need to pass the bill. Voinovich left a meeting in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office around 2:30 p.m., saying he did not believe there was a deal he could agree to on an amendment that would cut as much as $100 billion from the more than $920 billion measure. “I’ve really tried to work on this, but the three things that it should be timely, that it should be temporary and it should be targeted, that was something that I looked at,” Voinovich said. “It just doesn’t meet my criteria, and I feel very sorry because I think the Majority Leader has his responsibility, and he’s got his Members that he has to take care of.” Voinovich said he could not get past his objections to fund school construction in the bill, and he wanted the measure to include more money for highway construction. “They can’t seem to get it through … that right now what we need is a program that will create jobs,” Voinovich said. Collins said, “We received a counter-offer from the Democrats and we’re going to review it.” She would not discuss details of the offer. When asked how she felt about the bill’s prospects for passage before the weekend, Collins said, “not as good as I felt earlier.” “We’re still talking and looking at the various pieces of the package,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said after leaving Reid’s office. Nelson remained optimistic about passing the bill by Friday night, but with negotiations still ongoing, “you have to worry about fatigue. Sometimes fatigue is worse than the terms.” “The gap is on the other side,” he went on, referencing the Republican bloc. Nelson did not provide details of the counter-offer. While the size of the measure might be trimmed, money within the bill must also be moved around to court more Members, he said. “It’s how it’s calculated within the package that’s going to be the issue. We’re in the balancing act right now,” he said, giving an optimistic outlook. “When you narrow down the differences, at some point, you get close.”

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