Senators Announce Stimulus Agreement — But When’s the Conference?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced a final agreement on the stimulus bill, but House Democrats followed up by a subtle but unmistakable gesture of pullback — they did not show up for a subsequent meeting with their Senate counterparts to bless the details of the deal.

Democrats are describing the sudden postponement of what was supposed to be a 3pm meeting as a routine move to brief House members on the deal. Yet that detail in itself is telling — the senators seem to have gone public with a stimulus pact that had yet to be fully vetted by their counterparts.

Reid unveiled the stimulus agreement alongside the key members of his negotiating team – Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and (in a dismaying rebirth of influence) Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

Details on what’s in and out after the $789 billion bill were not forthcoming, but we did hear several telling comments from two of the three Republicans who broke ranks to work out the deal. Reid went out of his way in praising the GOPers, describing himself as at a “lack of words” to describe his “admiration and respect for the love of our country, the patriotism, the courage of these three brave senators.”Collins said that she was proud that the price tag was now lower than either the House or Senate versions had been going into this. So that means that the negotiators didn’t meet each other halfway, but actually went slightly further below the $838 billion Senate version.

Collins also took pride in the $150 billion in infrastructure spending that was included in the final bill, though that higher number also reflects environmental and broadband programs in addition to money for roads, bridges, and trains.

Specter called the bill an important step in turning the economy around, but he couldn’t quite summon up a ringing endorsement. “My preference would have been for Senator McCain’s bill of $450 billion in tax cuts. But in a legislature you don’t get everything you want,” Specter said.

In an indication of the tough re-election fight Specter is likely to face in Pennsylvania next year, he also described himself as echoing the stimulus endorsement given by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – “a very Republican group,” he reminded the TV cameras.

There was also an effort to make sure expectations didn’t get too high. “This is a turning point,” Joe Lieberman said, in perhaps the best example. “We’re not going to get back to where our economy was overnight.”