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Details Still Sparse On Stimulus Bill

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Lawmakers and their staffs on Capitol Hill are rushing to get the economic stimulus bill in shape for a final vote. House and Senate negotiators reached a deal last night but that doesn't mean that all the details are clear. With the economy suffering and the clock ticking down to the start of the congressional recess, a hard drive is on to get this thing done. In a moment, we'll take a close look at some of the tax breaks the bill should provide. But first, here is NPR's Andrea Seabrook with an overview of what's known about the bill.

ANDREA SEABROOK: When the deal was struck yesterday, we, mostly, knew the broad contours of the stimulus package: $790 billion, about 35 percent in tax cuts, 65 percent in spending, tens of billions in aid to the states, a tax cut for most working families. But, if you don't know much more than that, well, you're in good company.

Representative KENDRICK MEEK (Democrat, Florida): There was a lot of rumors flying around this morning of what was in and what was out.

SEABROOK: Congressman Kendrick Meek, he's a Democrat from Florida. Meek says not even members of Congress are sure of the details.

Rep. MEEK: I mean, it's almost like as the information electronically is sent out, Blackberries are humming here in the Capitol. You have staffers that are calling senior staffers and - who are calling other senior staffers, to try to find out the real deal.

SEABROOK: And this afternoon the bill was still being written. You can be sure that tonight will be a late one for Congressman Meek and many others, pouring over the hundreds of pages, section by section.

Rep. MEEK: Hopefully, when this comes to a vote, we will pretty much have a level of clarity of what's in this legislation and what's not in it.

SEABROOK: Part of the problem in describing the thing is that it is so big talking about any one program in it is like describing the tail of an elephant - doesn't really give you the whole picture. So here is the cliff notes: The largest single section of the bill sends money to state and local governments to modernize roads, bridges, waterways, public transit and so on. The second largest - the tax cuts.

A few hundred dollars for each American worker and tax incentives for businesses - for job creation, investment and energy saving. Another big piece sends tens of billions to the states to help pay for Medicaid, health insurance for the unemployed and for modernizing medical records. The education part of the bill sends billions to states and local governments to help prevent teacher layoffs and school budget cutbacks.

Somewhat smaller sections of the bill, though still huge by any normal standards, are tens of billions in new scientific research funding, and investment in American energy sources and a smart electric grid. Congressman John Larson of Connecticut, a member of the House Democratic leadership, said there's a reason this stimulus bill has so many different parts.

Representative JOHN LARSON (Democrat, Connecticut): Given the cavernous hole that has been left this administration, this represents a steady ascent from this cavern in a very determined and step-by-step process.

SEABROOK: And as for the overall size of it: That's the thing that Republicans says stares them most. Illinois' Mark Kirk says forget the rhetoric about our children paying for this in the future.

Representative MARK KIRK (Republican, Illinois): The bureau of the debt reports with passage of this legislation we will have to borrow $2.1 trillion just this year.

SEABROOK: Interestingly the size of the bill is also a sticking point for more left leaning Democrats, like Maryland's Elijah Cummings. And not because it's so big.

Representative ELIJAH CUMMINGS (Democrat, Maryland): I think I'm a little disappointed that we could not do more to help folks who are down and out with, by the way, their own tax dollars.

SEABROOK: In the end though, Cummings repeated the words that have become something of a mantra among the leaders of the House and Senate and the White House.

Rep. CUMMINGS: I mean, we have, we have no choice. We have no choice.

SEABROOK: Even though most people here in the Capitol have not seen the bill yet, most Democrats - and even a handful of Republicans - say they have no choice but to vote for it.

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.