Stimulus bill passes key Senate hurdle
Lawmakers move to put a compromise $827 billion economic stimulus plan to final vote Tuesday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Obama administration's $827 billion economic stimulus plan moved toward passage in the Senate on Monday as a compromise version of the bill cleared a key procedural hurdle.
Monday's 61-36 vote ended the prospect of a Republican filibuster that could have killed the measure, which President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders say is necessary to pull the country out of an economic nosedive and create new jobs. Three Republicans -- Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine -- joined Democrats in voting to cut off debate on the measure. Sixty votes were needed.
"The time to act is now," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid said Americans understand recovering from the current recession will take some time -- "but they do not have patience for a Congress that points fingers, drags its feet or fails to act."
A vote on final passage is scheduled for Tuesday. Negotiators from the Senate and the House of Representatives would then have to hammer out a single bill from their differing versions, but Reid said he expected that could be done by Friday.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported last week that the package is likely to create between 1.3 million and 3.9 million jobs by the end of 2010, lowering a projected unemployment rate of 8.7 percent by up to 2.1 percentage points.
But the CBO warned the long-term effect of that much government spending over the next decade could "crowd out" private investment, lowering long-term economic growth forecasts by 0.1% to 0.3% by 2019.
The price tag of $827 billion is roughly the same in both houses of Congress. But the version that senators advanced Monday -- which was hammered out in talks led by Collins and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson -- replaced billions in spending with tax cuts.
Collins said the compromise was "not perfect," but called it "bipartisan, targeted and effective." And Nelson said their version "trimmed the fat, fried the bacon and milked the sacred cows."
"It focuses like a laser beam on tax cuts for the middle class and job creation for millions of Americans," Nelson said.
But the House version of the bill passed without any Republican votes, and most Republican senators oppose the plan. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said GOP senators were suffering from "sticker shock."
"Everybody knows the economy's in serious trouble and everybody expects the government to act," he told reporters Monday afternoon. But he said the current bill "just doesn't add up to timely, temporary and targeted, which is what we all thought this was going to be about."
McConnell said the actual cost of the package was more than $1 trillion when interest on the increased debt was included. And Sen. John McCain, the party's 2008 presidential nominee, called the package a "generational theft."
"We have rejected a proposal on this side to establish a trigger that when our economy improves, that we would be on a path to a balanced budget and reducing spending ... and these spending programs will remain with no way of paying for them," he said. "What are we doing to future generations of Americans?"
But Obama, who beat McCain in November, told an audience at a town hall-style event in Indiana that "we can't wait and see and hope for the best."
"We can't posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us into this mess in the first place," he said. "That was what this election was all about: The American people rejected those ideas, because they hadn't worked."
Obama said the bill was not his ideal plan, but said it would do what he wanted.
"It's coming out of D.C., it's going through Congress -- it's not perfect," he said. "But it is the right size, the right scope, and has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform this economy for the 21st century."