Senators from both parties have reached a deal to advance President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan through the Senate. Montana Democrat Max Baucus said "we have a deal" after emerging from a closed-door Democratic caucus Friday night. The plan was hashed out between a handful of Republican moderates, Democratic leaders and the White House.
Read below for updates.
UPDATE - 8:44PM ET: The actual price tag on the Senate stimulus package will be north of $800 billion. The deal reached today will be passed as an amendment to the original bill and is roughly $780 billion. But the three amendments that have already passed this week will still be part of the law. One, a housing credit of $15,000 per buyer, is estimated to cost $19 billion. Another, a tax credit for folks who buy energy efficient cars, comes in at around $11 billion. A third, giving $6.5 billion more to the National Institutes of Health, would also be included in the total cost, which takes it to roughly $817 billion, close to the amount of the package passed by the House.
Republicans have been arguing tonight that the higher price tag means that there is, in fact, no deal -- since the deal is for the $780 billion. Democratic senators and Sens. Arlen Specter and Susan Collins said, however, that there is a deal and that the amendments will be worked out in the negotiations between the Senate and House. The NIH piece may have the best chance of survival because it was sponsored by Specter, whose vote will be needed again to pass whatever emerges from House-Senate negotiations. The assumption among Democrats, said aides, is that those amendments will be stripped out during the conference negotiations, because the crux of the compromise deal is the $780 billion package.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) named a third Republican who backs the package, thanking Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine for her "very, very strong support for this measure." Snowe's support means that Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) is not needed to reach the crucial mark of 60, though he may still appear.
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UPDATE - 7:50PM ET: Specter makes it official. Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, announced on the Senate floor that he is supporting the compromise stimulus bill that emerged today. Specter's support comes after the announcement minutes earlier by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.). Democrats have 58 members in their caucus. The support of Specter and Collins gives them the 60 they need to end debate and move to passage of the bill.
Get used to hearing the names Collins and Specter, along with moderate Republican Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and Olympia Snowe of Maine. If Al Franken ultimately finds his way to Washington, Democrats, if they stay united, will need only one of those four to move a bill through. They proved this evening they're willing to do that.
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UPDATE - 7:33PM ET: On the Senate floor, Sen. Susan Collins, a crucial swing-voting Republican, just announced that she supports the Democratic compromise on the stimulus, calling it the "culmination of much deliberation and debate."
That oughta do it.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) is still scheduled to speak. Given that Harry Reid asked that Specter be allowed to speak, it's fair to assume Specter will announce his support. When he does, Democrats will have the votes they need to pass it. It's then on to the conference negotiations between the House and Senate.
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UPDATE - 7:26PM ET: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the Senate floor to say that the compromise reached today required some Democrats to "swallow real hard" and that they were "close, closer" to reaching a final deal.
There would be no vote tonight, however, he said, "but in the next day or so." Reid cited four senators who had been crucial in the ongoing negotiations: Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Those four speakers will now be given time on the floor to lay out their positions.
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UPDATE - 7:02PM ET: The Senate Democratic meeting has broken up. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said that there is "tremendous unity" among Democrats for a new compromise stimulus. He and other senators said that the number is now close to $780 billion. Fifty-eight percent is spending and 42 percent is tax cuts. Democrats still hope for a vote tonight.
Sen. Arlen Specter is a crucial Republican vote that Democrats need. Walking on to the Senate floor, he said that he was soon to make a statement there regarding his position. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D) said that Democrats have "at least three" Republican votes -- enough to pass even if Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) does not make it for the vote.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said that Republican negotiators had been pushing for a $650 billion stimulus and the president made it clear he was willing to live with $800 billion.
Education funding took "a walloping" in the compromise, a person in the room told the Huffington Post. Cuts were also made to Head Start.
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UPDATE - 6:45PM ET:: Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad tells reporters that a bipartisan group of Senators has come up with "a tentative proposal that will be presented to Senate Democrats at a 5:30 p.m. caucus meeting. Their draft cuts about $100 billion in spending from the bill.
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UPDATE - 5:49PM ET: The meeting is underway and the Democrats have been joined by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) entered the meeting with Joe Lieberman, who was asked if a top concern for Democrats was that the cuts may be too great.
"Oh yeah. That's what we've argued all along. It has to be substantial," said Lieberman. Nelson stopped to talk to a scrum of reporters, but Lieberman urged him along.
"Let's go. We've got to get in there and get it done," said Lieberman.
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Sens. Ben Nelson and Susan Collins just wrapped up a meeting with Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Senate Democratic leadership meant to hammer out details of a compromise stimulus package.
Asked how she was feeling as she left the meeting with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), Collins responded, "Not as good as I felt earlier."
Told of Collins' comment, Nelson said that the negotiations are "not slipping" and that Collins may have been referring to fatigue. "You have to worry about fatigue. Sometimes fatigue interferes more than terms," he said. "After about the third or the fourth time going over this, you start to wonder if you are making progress or is it even possible? But having done this sort of thing in a prior life" -- Nelson was governor of Nebraska -- "I think you just have to keep moving forward and continuing to talk and see if you can narrow the gap."
He added: "The gap is on the other side."
Reid presented the bipartisan group with his own set of stimulus cuts, said Nelson after the meeting, which had been drawn up by the Senate appropriations committee. "As you might imagine, they had a different idea of how to go about this," Nelson said. A Reid aide confirmed that the majority leader presented his own proposal but did not have details or an outline of it.
The final package, said Nelson, is likely to be significantly lower. "I think it will be below 800 [billion]. For me it's not symbolism, it's an economic matter. At some point it's just too big," he said.
Asked by the Huffington Post if that meant he thought 800 billion was the specific point at which it was too big, he said, "It's whatever gets 60 votes, 61 votes."
Nelson declared himself optimistic. "It's quite possible that we'll have the number we need," he said, but that will require cutting enough to pull in some Republicans without cutting so much that you lose Democrats -- or lose sight of the initial purpose.
"That was a tall order at the beginning. It hasn't gotten any shorter," said Nelson. "Our goal is to try to get it done today."
Following the meeting, Nelson walked around the corner to the LBJ room for a meeting with Senate Democrats. He said he would then journey to other side and meet again with Senate Republicans. His staff, he said, is in constant coordination with aides to Collins and Specter.
Reid said earlier today that he'd like to see the stimulus bill voted on this evening, and has been deep in negotiations throughout the day, including at least five calls with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel before noon, his spokesman Jim Manley said.
Nelson and Collins have also been engaged in high-profile talks the last several days involving centrist members of both parties, aimed at cutting down the size of the stimulus. They have drawn up several drafts of proposed cuts.