Congressional negotiators have struck a deal on a compromise, $787-billion economic-stimulus bill, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The measure is smaller than the $819.5-billion package that the House approved on Jan. 28 and the $838-billion measure that the Senate passed Feb. 10.

Collins, stimulus, Senate
Sen. Collins opposed precedent of funding school construction.

Reid said at a Feb. 11 afternoon press conference in the Capitol that differences between the house and senate bills were "resolved." He added, "The bills were really quite similar. And I'm pleased to announce we've been able to bridge those differences."

Technically, the deal is not yet sealed. The House-Senate conference committee dealing with the economic-stimulus bill has recessed and hasn't yet approved what Reid described as a resolution of differences. Yet most of the differences have been ironed out and a basic understanding reached. President Barack Obama has been pressing hard for quick passage of the stimulus bill and praised the "hard-fought compromise." He said that, "Just today, the CEO of Caterpillar said that if this American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is passed, his company would be able to rehire some of the employees they�ve been forced to lay off."

A key Senator outlined the agreement. About $150 billion of the spending is allocated for infrastructure, said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a pivotal player in the stimulus debate. She said the infrastructure allotment includes funding for transportation, sewers, a "smart" electric grid and rural broadband projects. Collins added that "dollar for dollar, an investment in infrastructure produces the most jobs."

Collins told reporters that the infrastructure portion of the bill is "robust," and included $49.6 billion for highways and other transportation categories, up from $43 billion in the version that the Senate had cleared.

Conferees did not provide specific "line-item" funding for school construction, but agreed to make school modernization an eligible use for some of the $54 billion in state fiscal "stabilization" funds. New school construction, however, would not be eligible for those funds.

Collins said, "I was very concerned about the precedent of establishing a new federal program for school construction because historically that has been the responsibility of state and local governments." If such a federal program were set up, she added, it would be very difficult to argue that it should just be temporary.

A group of senators, led by Collins and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), had trimmed the original Senate bill by $108 billion, including $19.5 billion for K-12 and college or university facilities construction.

As of 5 pm Feb. 11, the package still needed formal approval by House and Senate conferees as well as the full House and Senate.

About 35% of the $789 billion would be tax incentives and the rest for appropriated spending. The tax provisions include one-year relief for millions of taxpayers from the Alternative Minimum Tax, a break that accounts for an estimated $70 billion of the stimulus measure's total cost.