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Congress: Back to work on the stimulus

The Senate convenes today at 1:00 pm ET with a significant procedural vote on the revamped compromise stimulus package at 5:30 pm, NBC's Ken Strickland says. While only procedural in nature, today's vote will be the first and formal test that the Nelson-Collins alternative has the 60 votes needed for final passage. This new bill cuts more than $100 billion from the original Senate version. The final vote is scheduled for Tuesday about noon, with 60 votes required for passage.

Strick adds that today's vote will also be an indication of any new Republican support. So far only GOP moderate Senators Collins, Specter, and Snowe have publicly voiced support. Still, those three votes along with 58 Democrats bring the tally to 61. When the deal was struck Friday, negotiators touted the new reduced total cost at $780 billion. But because $47 billion worth of amendments had been passed during last week's debate for things like tax relief for home and car buyers, the package is now priced about $827 billion. (That's $7 billion more than the House passed bill.)

The New York Times notes the differences between the House and Senate stimulus bills. "While the bills have many of the same elements, the exact amounts spent on similar items and programs vary. The House version provides $40 billion more in aid to local governments and is slightly more generous with a middle-class tax credit, while the Senate bill offers tax incentives for home and car purchases." 

The Washington Post writes that congressional Republicans see their opposition to the stimulus as a way to revitalize the party. "The fact that the stimulus legislation keeps moving forward nonetheless has done nothing to dim Republicans' satisfaction. Rather, they sense a tactical victory, particularly in the framing of their opposition to the plan as a clash with congressional Democrats instead of with President Obama, who remains far more popular with voters than does Congress. Republicans are holding congressional Democrats responsible for the wasteful spending they say is in the stimulus package, even though most of the big-ticket items -- for renewable energy, health care and schools -- are ones that Obama wanted in the package to advance his long-term goals."  

Paul Krugman isn't a fan of the Collins-Nelson-Snowe-Specter compromise. "What do you call someone who eliminates hundreds of thousands of American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition, undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who flip their houses? A proud centrist. For that is what the senators who ended up calling the tune on the stimulus bill just accomplished."

But in a Washington Post op-ed, Specter makes his case for crossing party lines to support the stimulus. "'In politics,' John Kennedy used to say, 'nobody gets everything, nobody gets nothing and everybody gets something.' My colleagues and I have tried to balance the concerns of both left and right with the need to act quickly for the sake of our country. The moderates' compromise, which faces a cloture vote today, is the only bill with a reasonable chance of passage in the Senate."

Stu Rothenberg reflects on the past two weeks: "Either Congressional Democrats went from undeniably brilliant to unbelievably inept in just a few weeks, or being in the majority in Congress isn't nearly as easy as being the opposition… I'll cast my vote for the second alternative." But, he says, Democrats shouldn't overreact… Even with all of their party's recent stumbles, the president and Congressional Democrats will end up looking pretty good if the economy rebounds and Americans start to feel better about things. It's the results that matter, even if the process was part stumbling and part bumbling."

On Meet the Press yesterday, Sen. John Ensign called the stimulus package the result of "one-party rule." He definitively said the stimulus will have the same effect it did in Japan -- none -- particularly because Democrats are going to let the Bush tax cuts expire, effectively raising taxes, as they did in Japan. He later huffed, "This is--this is almost $1 trillion. You don't get do-overs with $1 trillion.  If you get this thing wrong, $1 trillion isn't like, "Well, we did it wrong, we'll try it again." A trillion dollars..." He later dismissed the prospect that cops and firemen will be laid off if the stimulus isn't passed as Democratic "fearmongering."
 
Mike Pence boasted on Meet the Press that "support for this stimulus bill is collapsing by the hour. The American people know we can't borrow and spend and bail our way back to a growing economy. This bill--the only thing this bill's going to stimulate is more government and more debt." The "centerpiece" of the bill, he said, is spending and "the American people are tired of it."

On Face the Nation, John McCain called the stimulus "generational theft." "I think this can only be described as generational theft. What we are doing is amassing multi-trillions of dollars," he said. He wasn't done there. Asked if he could support the measure, he said, "Well, I can't, Bob. And I can't because I think it's the greatest transfer of not only spending but authority and responsibility to government. I think it's a massive -- it's much larger than any measure that was taken during the Great Depression. I think it has policy changes in it which are fundamentally bad for America."
 
He even made a direct comparison of the Obama administration to Bush's. "[T]hat's the way the Bush administration, when we Republicans were in charge -- that's the way we did business. But I thought we were going to have change. And that change meant we work together. This is a setback. This is a setback for all Americans, in my view, because we promised, all of us, that we would work in a more bipartisan, inclusive fashion." 
 
Obama's top economic adviser, Larry Summers, though said, " 'Those who presided over the last eight years, don't seem to be in a strong position to lecture about the lessons of history.'"