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Senate Narrowly Approves Economic Stimulus

The Senate on Tuesday voted 61-37 in favor of an $838 billion economic stimulus bill, but a tricky final negotiation still looms in a House-Senate conference committee that Democratic leaders hope to complete this week.

With a bipartisan deal in hand since Friday to trim $108 billion from the Senate version of the measure, the vote had little drama, despite vocal objections from most Republicans.

“The president was right to call for a stimulus, but this bill misses the mark. It’s full of waste,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor. “We have no assurance it will create jobs or revive the economy. … In short, we’re taking an enormous risk with other people’s money. On behalf of taxpayers, I won’t take that risk.”

But Democrats said the bill is vital to getting the nation’s economy back on track, noting that billions in spending on infrastructure, education and aid to states, among other things, will create jobs at a time when private companies are laying off hundreds of thousands of workers.

House and Senate Democratic leaders hope to complete a conference report on the package by the end of the week, but weekend votes are possible, aides said.

Conference negotiations are expected to begin in earnest Tuesday evening, and the fragile compromise hatched to gain the support of three centrist Senate Republicans — Susan Collins (Maine), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) — will likely guide those talks. Those three were the only in the GOP ranks to vote in favor of the bill Tuesday. All 58 Members of the Democratic Conference supported the measure.

Looking ahead to the conference committee, Hill Democrats and the White House would like to restore money to school construction and the states, which were cut as part of the bipartisan Senate rewrite, but moderate Republicans have said they already have compromised and are unlikely to agree to a restoration of those funds.

Prior to the vote on final passage, the Senate voted 61-37 to beat back a point of order charging that package violated budget rules.

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