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Conference Committee Begins Its Work

A House-Senate conference committee to formalize President Barack Obama’s $789 billion economic stimulus bill gaveled to order Wednesday evening more than two hours late following a hiccup with the deal despite Senate leaders proclaiming earlier that a compromise between the chambers was sealed. Even as House Democrats continued to discuss the negotiated version of the bill behind closed doors, House and Senate conferees were meeting in the Lyndon B. Johnson room just off the Senate floor to finalize a deal that meshed the original $816 billion House version with its slightly more expensive counterpart from the Senate. As the committee members made their opening statements, the deal that Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-Nev.) announced almost three hours earlier appeared to be intact. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the conference committee, announced that he would not “entertain” amendments to the compromise package. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), a conferee and chief architect of the original House bill, indicated his support, describing the compromise negotiated with the Senate as “a good-faith attempt” to address the problems plaguing the U.S. economy. “I hope the fact that we pass this will create enough confidence” to revive the economy, Obey said. As expected, the Republican conferees made clear they could not support the bill. House Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), a conferee, asked that the legislation be reviewed “line by line,” but he was rebuffed by Inouye.

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