Holding the recovery plan hostage

HOLDING THE RECOVERY PLAN HOSTAGE…. As you’ve probably noticed, the Senate did not pass the economic stimulus package last night, as at least some Democratic leaders had hoped. There’s a group of nearly 20 “centrist” senators who’ve been working diligently to make the recovery plan significantly smaller — the opposite of what’s needed — and until they’re satisfied, the bill isn’t going anywhere.

A bipartisan group of senators worked furiously in backroom negotiations on Thursday to cut the cost of the more than $920 billion economic stimulus plan. Senate Democratic leaders said they would await the outcome of those talks before calling for a final vote on the measure, perhaps on Friday.

Members of the bipartisan group, led by Senators Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said they wanted to trim provisions that would not quickly create jobs or encourage spending by consumers and businesses. They spent much of the day scrutinizing the 736-page bill and wrangling over what to cut.

By early evening, aides said the group had drafted a list of nearly $90 billion in cuts, including $40 billion in aid for states, more than $14 billion for various education programs, $4.1 billion to make federal buildings energy efficient and $1.5 billion for broadband Internet service in rural areas. But they remained short of a deal, and talks were expected to resume Friday morning.

Let’s not lose sight of the way in which the Senate bill has grown this week. When the House passed its version, it cost about $820 billion. The Senate version, before the center-right lawmakers cut it down, currently stands at about $920 billion. The Nelson/Collins group intends to cut about $100 billion, bringing it back down to the size of the House version.

But it’s how they’re scaling back that matters. The Senate bill grew, not by additional stimulus spending — the chamber narrowly defeated a measure to expand infrastructure investment — but by adding $94 billion in tax cuts. The Nelson/Collins group, to make the package “palatable,” isn’t eyeing the tax breaks that aren’t stimulative, they’re eyeing about $100 billion in spending that is stimulative.

In other words, to get this thing passed, there will be less funding for cash-strapped states, schools, and energy, which needs to go to make room for tax cuts that no one seriously believes will spur growth.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “I have explained to people within that group, they cannot hold the president of the United States hostage.”

Actually, they can. If the “centrists” don’t get the spending cuts they want, they’re prepared to scrap the stimulus package altogether. The Nelson/Collins group isn’t just holding the president hostage, it’s holding the economy hostage.

Negotiations will begin again this morning. Reid announced late yesterday that he intends to end debate and have a vote this afternoon, but if there’s no progress, he’ll schedule a vote for Sunday.