WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid predicted Friday that Congress will finish its work on a massive, $787 billion economic stimulus plan, possibly by day’s end, giving President Barack Obama a big victory.
Speaking as debate resumed on Capitol Hill, the Nevada Democrat said the Senate would likely vote on the package of spending and tax cuts later in the day and that the finished product could be sent to Obama’s desk soon thereafter.
“We expect to be in a position to vote on adoption of the conference report,” Reid said at the start of the Senate day.
Obama, addressing a White House group, noted that lawmakers had a “spirited debate” and said the legislation is “only the beginning” of what he considers necessary “to turn our economy around.” The president did not get all he wanted out of the bill.
The 1,071 page measure — eight inches thick — was posted on an overburdened congressional Web site late Thursday, giving lawmakers just a few overnight hours to read it before debate resumed in both the House and Senate Friday morning. Just on Tuesday, the House voted unanimously to recommend that lawmakers and the public have at least 48 hours to read the legislation before a vote.
The plan, freshly estimated at $787 billion by the Congressional Budget Office, combines $281 billion in tax cuts with $308 billion in outlays funded by the appropriations committees and about $198 billion in spending for benefit programs such as unemployment assistance, $250 payments or millions of people receiving Social Security benefits, and extra money for states to help with the Medicaid health program for the poor and disabled.
Obama’s “Making Work Pay” tax cut would be scaled back from $500 for most workers to $400, with couples getting $800 instead of $1,000.
Obama said Friday that “passing this bill is a critical step.” He plans to announce a new housing initiative soon, perhaps as early as next week.
“We have a once in a generation chance to act boldly, turn adversity into opportunity, and use this crisis as a chance to transform our economy for the 21st century,” the president said.
The plan is the signature initiative of the fledgling Obama administration, which is betting that combining tax cuts of just a few dollars a week for most workers with an infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars of government spending over the next few years will arrest the economy’s fall.
But the inclusion of a $70 billion tax break to make sure middle- to upper-income taxpayers won’t get hit by the alternative minimum tax forced a reduction of Obama’s signature tax break for 95 percent of workers.
Republicans pointed out a bevy of questionable spending items that made the final cut in House-Senate negotiations, including money to replace computers at federal agencies, inspect canals, and issue coupons for convertor boxes to help people watch TV when the changeover to digital signals occurs this summer.
“This measure is not bipartisan. It contains much that is not stimulative,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama’s rival for the White House. “And is nothing short — nothing short — of generational theft” since it burdens future generations with so much debt, he added.
Obama economics adviser Larry Summers cautioned against raising expectations too high.
“I think this is a key part of what’s going to be a multipart strategy to contain this decline,” he said. But Summers added that the problems “weren’t made in a week, a month, a year. It’s going to take time to fix.” He said it should not be considered a “silver bullet,” or panacea for deeply rooted business woes.
Much of the spending won’t be delivered this year or even next, and Republicans pointed to studies by the Congressional Budget Office that say that adding so much to the national debt would cost the economy by the end of the decade.
Republicans, lined up to vote against the bill, piled on the scorn.
“This is not the smart approach,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. “The taxpayers of today and tomorrow will be left to clean up the mess.”
It was clear that the measure was the result of old-fashioned sausage-making. Pet provisions were coming to light that had not been included in the original bills that passed the House or Senate — or that differed markedly from earlier versions. Some appeared to brush up against claims of the bill’s supporters that no pet projects known as “earmarks” were included.