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Stimulus Bill Heads To Conference

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Andrea Seabrook has that story.

ANDREA SEABROOK: You might think that now that the economic stimulus package has passed both the House and the Senate, we'd have a good idea of what will be in the final bill. Well, not necessarily. There's a lot to be worked out in this multibillion-dollar spending and tax-cut measure. The House and Senate versions are very different, and Democrats can't push it through the Senate by themselves. So, the fate of this bill hangs on the votes of just three Senate Republicans willing to vote with Democrats: Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

BLOCK: I've made very clear that I cannot vote for a package of that size.

SEABROOK: This is Collins, surrounded by a throng of reporters as she goes down a staircase in the Senate today. Collins is objecting to the size of the stimulus package. And because she and Snowe and Specter effectively hold the keys to this bill, they are suddenly very powerful. Whatever happens now to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions must please them, or it could tank the whole thing.

BLOCK: It seems to me that our goal ought to be something similar to what Senator Nelson and I worked out at 780 billion.

SEABROOK: That's tens of billions of dollars less than the House passed and after that agreement, the Senate version got bigger than the House's. The three Republicans also insisted on cutting direct aid to the states by tens of billions of dollars, and they chopped out the money for new school construction altogether. These cuts do not make House Democrats happy or, as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said facetiously...

SEABROOK: Well, I'm shocked that the Senate would say this is the bill we passed, take it or leave it.

SEABROOK: Hoyer said negotiations will start immediately in what's called a conference committee, and they won't be pretty.

SEABROOK: Obviously, we're confronted with the reality that if you have three people say, look, if you change anything, we're jumping ship - you know, that's going to affect the tenor of the conference.

SEABROOK: Actually, negotiations really began days ago between the major players in the House, the Senate and the White House in tucked-away offices, behind closed doors, and on private conference calls. And now, the pressure is on.

BLOCK: We are hemorrhaging jobs.

SEABROOK: New York Senator Chuck Schumer; he's a Democrat.

BLOCK: This package certainly doesn't have everything I want or any single member wants, but for the sake of this country, we all must give and come together, and get it passed - not only passing on the floor today, but getting this passed in conference quickly because every day we wait, more are laid off.

SEABROOK: Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Seabrook
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.