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US Economic Measure Now Goes to House-Senate Negotiations


With Tuesday's Senate vote approving its version of economic recovery legislation, the focus has shifted to a House-Senate conference committee beginning work on resolving differences between slightly different versions of the measure. Tough bargaining is ahead as Congress and President Barack Obama work to get the bill to his desk.

With the stakes high for the recession-battered U.S. economy and Americans who have lost jobs, the pressure is enormous as lawmakers begin reconciliation talks.

Democrats and the president want to get a bill on his desk before Congress's next break scheduled to begin on February 16.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer provided an indication of tough bargaining ahead, referring to what he called different priorities in the House and Senate measures requiring thorough debate.

Referring to three moderate Republican senators who backed a Senate compromise, he said the House should not be in what he called a position where three people decide what should be done.

Emerging from a Democratic meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to concerns her members have as negotiations begin.

"Our colleagues are excited about the prospect, concerned about some of the differences between the House and the Senate, and we promised that because our bill, the House-passed bill, produced more jobs, we will go to conference to fight for those jobs," she said.

Majority Leader Hoyer suggested that negotiations could extend through next week. Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid say they hope for quicker progress.

"We expect to have something done within the next 24 hours that will at least head us in the right direction," he said.

Reid and Pelosi met with President Obama early Tuesday before the president used a town hall meeting in Florida to maintain pressure on Republicans.

"We can't afford to posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us into this mess in the first place. That's what the election was about. You rejected many of those ideas because you know they didn't work," Mr. Obama said.

Even with reductions made in the Senate bill, Congressional Budget Office estimates raised the cost of that legislation to $838 billion, about $18 billion more than a House version passed last month without Republican support.

House Democrats assert their version would cost less in deficit spending in the long-run than the Senate measure.

Republicans continued to assail both bills as wasteful, asserting they constitute a permanent expansion of government spending.

Republican conference chairman, Representative Mike Pence asserted that more Americans support Republican counter-proposals rather than current House and Senate versions he described this way.

"A [Republican] stimulus bill that actually is not a long, laundry list of worn out liberal spending priorities but actually is at its center a bill that will give working families and small business more of their hard-earned dollars to spend," he said.

House Democratic appropriations chairman David Obey countered Republican arguments about the size of the package, saying that while not perfect it should provide a strong enough boost to stimulate the economy.

"If we have a large and serious economic crisis coming at us, that response needs to be large, bold and aggressive," he said.

Obey said there are substantial, but hopefully not overpowering, differences between the House and Senate measures, but expressed hope lawmakers can focus on the need for action.

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