Thursday, February 12, 2009

Budget Update

After being approved in the House, the Senate devoted the entire week to discussions about HR 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The debate was chaotic and contentious as senators struggled to perfect what many saw as a bill that would spend more money than originally intended and perhaps not stimulate the return they hoped. While support for the bill waned, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) met with a bipartisan group of senators from both sides of the aisle to discuss a proposal that would reduce the overall cost of the package by as much as $100 billion.

Collins and Nelson also met individually with President Obama on Feb. 4 to express their concerns and seek his support for the development of a less partisan, alternative bill. Although the president didn't endorse any new plan, at a meeting later in the day with Senate Democrats, he told them they should compromise on the overall size of the bill to secure Republican support. The willingness expressed by the president to compromise, rumors that as many as 20 senators were dissatisfied with HR 1 and the consideration of a Collins-Nelson alternative that would not include many of the education and research spending proposals of the House bill, set off a lobbying frenzy on Capitol Hill that will continue.

On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to work through the nearly 300 amendments to the bill that had been filed. Ironically, the bill continued to grow during the Senate debate as expressions of dismay over the size and scope of the measure grew louder off the Senate floor. Reid made an offer to the Republicans to require 60 votes to pass the bill in an effort to avert the time-intensive cloture procedure that must be invoked when a filibuster is underway. Reid had hoped to have such a vote on final passage completed on Thursday but soon realized that a deal was not in the offing. At that point he announced a rare Sunday session to encourage compromise among his colleagues.

While the Senate debate heated up, efforts in the House of Representatives to finally adopt an FY 2009 budget for the government were put on ice for another few weeks. In spite of Rep. David Obey's (D-Wis.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) best efforts, the Senate persuaded the House that passage of the Omnibus Conference Report prior to completing action on the stimulus plan would be a mistake. On Feb. 5, House Democrats left the Capitol aboard a private train for their two-day retreat at a resort in West Virginia, leaving the Senate to work its will on HR 1.


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