US Congress strikes deal on $789 bn stimulus plan

February 12th, 2009 - 10:32 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Feb 12 (IANS) Racing against the clock to meet President Barack Obama’s Monday deadline, Congressional leaders have struck a deal on a $789 billion stimulus plan after scaling down the versions passed by both houses.

“The difference between the Senate and House versions we’ve resolved,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Wednesday.

“The middle ground we’ve reached creates more jobs than the original Senate bill and spends less than the original House bill,” he said. The bill passed by the Senate Tuesday totalled $838 billion. The House version approved last week had a price tag of $819 billion.

Reid said the bill would create 3.5 million jobs and fulfil one of Obama’s campaign pledges, “cutting taxes for 95 percent of American workers.” He said the final bill would be put to a vote on the Senate floor “within the next few days, maybe as early as tomorrow.”

“This has been a give and take,” Reid said, adding, “The House is part of this arrangement.”

Reid also praised the three “brave” Republican senators who broke ranks to support the bill: Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter. Of the 219 Republicans in Congress, they were the only three to back the bill.

CNN citing Democratic leadership sources said negotiators have worked out a disagreement between the Senate and House over education funding that threatened to throw a last-minute roadblock in front of the stimulus bill.

Details on how they settled it were not immediately available. But a Democratic source cited by CNN said leaders have come up with an agreement that House Democrats and moderate Senate Republicans can live with.

Word that the final snag was being untangled came after back-and-forth reports Wednesday on the massive relief package’s status hours after Reid had announced a compromise bill around mid afternoon.

After the late disagreement had been cleared, Obama issued a statement saying: “I want to thank the Democrats and Republicans in Congress who came together around a hard-fought compromise that will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs and get our economy back on track.”

The agreement on a trimmed stimulus package came as Obama continued his public exhortations to lawmakers to send him legislation he can sign into law.

“Enacting this plan is both urgent and essential to our recovery,” he said at a construction site in Northern Virginia. “The time for talk is past.”

Democrats in the Senate must hold on to at least two Republican votes to get the 60 votes needed to keep Republican opponents from blocking the bill when it goes back to the two chambers for final approval.

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