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Voinovich Leaves Stimulus Negotiations

2:50 PM, Feb 6, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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And, then there were three moderate Republicans. Sen. George Voinovich has left the team of moderates attempting to craft a $100-billion cut in the current size of the stimulus plan, leaving Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Olympia Snowe, and Sen. Arlen Specter to haggle with Democrats.

Voinovich left a meeting in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) office around 2:30 p.m., saying he did not believe there was a deal he could agree to on an amendment that would cut as much as $100 billion from the more than $920 billion measure.

"I've really tried to work on this, but the three things that it should be timely, that it should be temporary and it should be targeted, that was something that I looked at," Voinovich said. "It just doesn't meet my criteria, and I feel very sorry because I think the Majority Leader has his responsibility, and he's got his Members that he has to take care of."

Voinovich said he could not get past his objections to fund school construction in the bill, and he wanted the measure to include more money for highway construction.

"They can't seem to get it through ... that right now what we need is a program that will create jobs," Voinovich said.

Collins said the Republican moderates had received a counter-offer from Democrats, which they're reviewing. "Blue Dog Democrats" in the House are encouraged by the work the moderates are doing, feeling certain that their conservative districts will make them pay for Pelosi's and Reid's malfeasance in ways liberal Congressmen won't have to:

Senators in the meeting said they were focusing on items they believe are not stimulative and should be considered through the regular legislative process. For instance, the group agreed that $870 million for preparing and responding to an influenza pandemic should be dropped...

Conservative Democrats in the House were taking inspiration from the efforts in the Senate. Leaders of the 50-member Blue Dog Coalition wrote House Democratic leaders and urged a "redoubled effort" to scrub the bill of non-stimuluative provisions. They cited the efforts of Senate moderates as a "highly worthwhile goal."

Reid continues to be helpful and diplomatic, offering such soundbites as, "If they think they are going to rewrite this bill . . . they've got another thought coming," and "What in the world could we do to be more cooperative?"

Well, one way would be mustering more than four Democratic votes for more than one of the amendments proposed by Republicans, which would cut wasteful spending or offer tax cuts.

Collins told Roll Call the prospects of passing the bill by this weekend are dimming. Sen. Richard Burr, on local talk radio in North Carolina, suggested support for the bill among voters has been dropping so quickly that even keeping all Democrat votes is getting harder for Reid. He also said nine of 10 calls to the Hill are anti-stimulus.

His assessment may be a little rosier than reality, but Barack Obama is worried enough that he's planning a trip to sell the stimulus to skeptical Americans for Monday and Tuesday of next week:

The White House said Friday that President Obama will visit Florida and Indiana next week in an effort to sell his economic stimulus package to an increasingly skeptical public and Congress.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president will hold town hall meetings in Elkhart, Ind., and Fort Myers, Fla., which have both seen unemployment skyrocket.

Who was it that planned President Bush's well-intentioned but ultimately doomed town hall tour on Social Security in 2005? I believe the Obama administration has a job for him.