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House, Senate Strike Deal On Stimulus

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. There is a deal. Today, leaders in the House and Senate struck a compromise that will likely mean passage of the economic stimulus package by the weekend. President Obama pushed lawmakers to get the bill done, and it seems to be coming in on time and even under budget - or at least costing less than the original House incentive plans.

Andrea Seabrook has been following the negotiations on Capitol Hill. And Andrea, the Senate passed its bill, what, one day ago, and now there is this compromise from both the House and the Senate. What happened?

ANDREA SEABROOK: Well, this agreement was really negotiated behind closed doors - shuttle diplomacy, you could call it. I know that there were members of the White House staff going back and forth between House Democrats, Senate Democrats, House Republicans, even, Senate Republicans. And in the end, it came down to three Senate Republicans who are just critical to this whole negotiation. The Senate doesn't have enough - the Democrats in the Senate don't have enough votes to pass their version by itself, so they needed these, you know, a couple of Republican votes. And those three Republicans became the center of gravity of this whole agreement.

BLOCK: And we're talking about Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

SEABROOK: Yes. And, you know, what they wanted, they got. Pretty much, they scaled down the whole entire package. Both the House and the Senate versions were much bigger than the version we're looking at now - 798.5 billion is what we're looking at now. That is - they wanted more, a bigger percentage of the bill to be tax cuts than had been. They're getting that. A smaller percentage of the bill would be spending. They're getting that. There were some last-minute snags which were very interesting to watch today. There was a very awkward moment when some senators were left standing in the conference committee room, waiting for the Democratic members of the House who didn't show up, and they had to go back into negotiations. But it's all over now, pretty much, as I'm told.

BLOCK: And there were some pretty big differences between these bills that emerged from the House and Senate. Why don't we talk about some of them? We mentioned one: spending for state school construction was another big one. The Alternative Minimum Tax, reducing that for middle class taxpayers. That came out of the Senate. Where have they ended up on some of these things?

SEABROOK: Well, we do - we know the broad contours at this point. The truth is, when a bill this huge goes through, they're still writing the thing. The staff members were up all night last night. They'll be up all night tonight to actually get the language down. We do know that 35 percent of the bill will be tax cuts, 65 percent will be spending. The individual tax cuts for working families that the Obama administration wanted, that's down to 400 for each individual, 800 for couples - that's from 500 and 1,000, respectively. It looks like $44 billion in aid to the states - a lot less than the House wanted, but more than the Senators wanted. There - you know, there was backing and forthing on all of this, and we'll be looking at the details for the next couple of days.

BLOCK: And briefly, Andrea: Who ends up happy with this bill? Who ends up disappointed?

SEABROOK: Well, you know, it's one of those occasions where almost everyone is disappointed: House Democrats, House Republicans are very disappointed because they say they didn't get enough in. But, ultimately, everyone around here agrees that something had to be passed, including President Obama. It looks like that's what's going to happen by the end of the week.

BLOCK: NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. Thanks so much.

SEABROOK: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

SEABROOK: Well, this I can tell you. Again, it looks like the top line is going to be $789.5 billion. It breaks down to about 35 percent of the bill in tax cuts, 65 percent would be in spending. There is a deal to bring the individual tax cuts for working families down to $400 for individuals, 800 for couples, $44 billion in aid to the states. Again, that's - people are messing with that number right now.

It adds money to help people buy health insurance through COBRA, a lot of things like that, including, don't forget, money for construction and infrastructure projects.

BLOCK: Okay, and final details still to come.

SEABROOK: Still to come.

BLOCK: NPR's congressional correspondent, Andrea Seabrook. Thanks a lot.

SEABROOK: Thanks.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
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