By Paul Barton
WASHINGTON – Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both Democrats, refuse to pull their support from the House-Senate conference agreement on the economic stimulus bill despite changes made in conference that have rankled other Senate Democrats, their offices confirmed late Wednesday afternoon.
Members of the conference committee announced Wednesday afternoon it had pared the stimulus bill to $789 billion, down from the House’s $820 billion bill and the Senate’s $838 billion version, the latter of which just passed Tuesday.
To help reduce the cost of the package, House-Senate negotiators eliminated $16 billion in school construction funds and $35 billion from proposed fiscal aid to states. Many of the states, like banks and corporations, are faced with daunting budget problems but, unlike Washington, are prohibited by their constitutions from issuing debt.
“Speed is of the essence,” Lincoln spokesman Katie Laning Niebaum said of how the senator feels about the bill. Niebaum added Lincoln would particularly like to see the school construction money restored, but that it won’t be a deal-breaker for her if it isn’t. The spokesman added Lincoln is hearing there is “still some movement” on the school-construction funds, despite the reports of a deal being finalized.
Lincoln was part of the group of centrist Democratic Senators who worked late last week to craft a bill that could attract at least some Republican support.
Pryor spokesman Crystal Waitekus said Pryor’s feeling is that without elimination of the school construction and state-aid money, “there would not be enough votes to pass the bill.” Unlike Lincoln, Pryor was not one of the centrist Senators who negotiated that chamber’s final version.
The New York Times Wednesday quoted senators such as Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa as saying they were not happy with the House-Senate compromise because it took money out of proposed health and school construction programs.