Tulsa World: Bridging the gap

Tulsa World

Bridging the gap

by: JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
2/11/2009 2:59:47 AM

WASHINGTON - Congressional Democrats quickly launched possibly contentious efforts Tuesday to reconcile key differences in a huge stimulus package of spending and tax relief shortly after the Senate approved its $838 billion version.

Emerging from a meeting with her fellow Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California vowed to fight for the additional jobs her chamber's version would create.

Pelosi also suggested the routine approach of splitting differences between House and Senate bills may not work this time out.

Both she and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., however, expressed hope that differences in the two bills could be settled quickly during the conference committee process so Congress could send a final product to President Obama for his signature.

They have a self-imposed deadline of having a bill to the president's desk before lawmakers leave for a previously scheduled break next week.

"This is an emergency,'' Reid said. "We have to move this quickly.''

On the spending side, one of the biggest gaps between the two versions appears to be the amount of money states could get under a so-called stabilization fund to help them through tough budget times.

The House version has $79 billion for that effort, while the Senate version has $39 billion.

Under the Senate version, education programs and projects would get considerably less, and efforts to move the final version toward the House figures are expected to be a focus of the conference committee.

On highways, the two versions are much closer with the House figure coming in at $30 billion and the Senate figure at $27 billion.

Both Reid and Pelosi said Obama has laid out what he wants to see in a final product, which should give a boost to negotiations.

Reid clearly has the trickier task.

Only three Senate Republicans voted for the bill Tuesday, giving him little room for error.

No Republicans voted for the House version, but Pelosi has sufficient Democratic votes to push a final product through her chamber.

The vote in the Senate was 61-37.

Oklahoma's two Republican senators - Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn - opposed the measure.

Both believe the bill is too costly and would not do enough to stimulate the nation's ailing economy.

"This bill does very little to put people back to work and little to help get our economy moving again. It's not about providing tax relief or building roads and bridges,'' Inhofe said.

"Rather, the current crisis is being used to permanently change the relationship between the federal government and the American people.''

Despite the changes championed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a key player in hammering out the Senate compromise, and others, Coburn warned the bill still would waste too much money.

"Instead of writing a bill that will work, Congress passed a bill that puts the ideological interests of one party ahead of the economic interests of the nation,'' he said.

"The foundational principles behind this bill were tried and failed in the 1930s.''

Various organizations spent the day Tuesday poring over the versions of the bill and coming up with figures for individual states.

According to figures provided by the Democratic Policy Committee, the version passed by the Senate would provide benefits totaling an estimated $1.7 billion to the state of Oklahoma.

That is about $600 million less than the earlier version of the Senate bill.

Now that the conference committee process has begun, however, the key comparison would be between the versions passed by the House and the Senate.

For example, the Center for American Progress said the Senate bill would create about 5,600 fewer jobs in Oklahoma than the House version.

The stimulus package was among the topics that Obama discussed Tuesday with Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., and other members of the Blue Dog Coalition.

Boren, who voted for the House bill, said the president pushed for quick passage of a final product but did not get into details on exactly what he hoped would be in that version.

He said the president also laid out a long-term agenda that included entitlement reform.

Senate signs on for stimulus: The Senate's approval of an $838 billion stimulus package combines spending and tax relief in an effort to kick-start the ailing economy.

RECONCILIATION TALKS: The White House summoned congressional leaders to reach agreement melding House ($820 billion) and Senate ($838 billion) versions on a final product to send to the president for his signature.

Oklahoma's senior senator reacts: "It's not about providing tax relief or building roads and bridges. Rather, the current crisis is being used to permanently change the relationship between the federal government and the American people." -U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla