A bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers has reached a compromise on spending levels in economic stimulus legislation sought by President Barack Obama to stop the U.S. economic decline. The agreement, which must still be put to a Senate vote, was driven by more bad news on Friday about the U.S. economy and the number of Americans losing their jobs.
The compromise proposal emerged after intense behind-the-scenes negotiations involving moderate Senate Republicans and Democrats, and the White House, on ways to reduce the size of a spending and tax cut measure that grew at one point to above $900 billion.
Aimed at clearing obstacles to a 60-vote margin required to overcome procedural roadblocks to final consideration by the Senate, it would cut about $110 billion from the original size of the Senate bill, lowering it to about $780 billion.
Those involved in the effort included Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, and Maine Republican Susan Collins, and both appealed to fellow Democrats and Republicans to support the compromise.
NELSON: We recognize that our plan isn't perfect, but I believe it is both responsible and realistic, it is stimulative and timely and can help deliver economic recovery to the American people soon.
COLLINS: I realize that some of my Republican colleagues were involved in the deliberations ultimately have decided not to support the compromise but their debate, their ideas help inform the compromise we are presenting tonight.
The proposal which takes the form of an amendment to replace the main Senate bill, will have to be voted on.
Earlier during fierce debate, Republicans assailed what they called wasteful and unfocused spending they said threatened to sink the American economy in deficits and debt.
Republican opponents, including Senator John McCain and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also rejected the compromise proposal saying it would cost as much as a House-passed measure and was not bipartisan:
MCCAIN: This is not bipartisan. This is two Republican senators that decided to join [the effort] after meetings behind doors from which almost all of the rest of us were not present. MCCONNELL: It seems to me that it falls far short of the kind of measure that we should be passing.
Republican Senator Arlen Specter who was also part of negotiations said the worsening economic situation called for action, and urged support for the compromise. "The psychological impact, if we were to reject some activist approach [the compromise proposal], I think would be devastating not only on Wall Street and on Main Street but all across the face of the globe."
In Friday's debate, one Democrat, Diane Feinstein voiced doubts about the measure's ability to create jobs for Americans. "I reserve the right at the end of the day to vote against the package that I don't think puts those jobs out there."
But Democrat Debbie Stabenow, from Michigan with the nation's highest unemployment rate at 10.6 percent, said the bill signifies a turn away from policies of the past:
"We have seen those policies in place, we have seen the results of those, and they didn't work."
Congressional lawmakers faced new pressure from the latest U.S. jobless figures, showing nearly 600,000 jobs lost in January, and a 7.6 percent national jobless rate.
Legislation the Senate does approve will have to be reconciled with a measure passed by the House of Representatives without support from Republicans.
It will be up to lawmakers in those negotiations to determine a final level of spending and what provisions remain in a final bill that goes to President Obama for signature.