Congress, White House near final deal on stimulus

Wed Feb 11, 2009 12:32pm EST
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By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers and the White House were moving toward a final deal on Wednesday for what could be a stimulus plan of under $800 billion that Democrats say is crucial to rescuing the struggling U.S. economy.

"We're close. I expect to have it done by 3 p.m. (2000 GMT)," said Senator Max Baucus, one of the negotiators on the package of tax cuts and government spending designed to pull the U.S. economy out of its deep recession.

Senator Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican whose support is key to passage, said $789 billion "sounds pretty close" to the overall price tag, while Democratic Senator Ben Nelson added, "The target was actually lower than that."

House and Senate negotiators were expected to emerge from closed-door meetings later on Wednesday and gather in a public session to sign off on a compromise bill that would then be sent to the full House and Senate for final passage.

Once that happens, possibly by week's end, President Barack Obama would promptly sign the legislation into law.

"I've heard white smoke is imminent but I haven't seen it yet," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell has been an outspoken critic of the bill, saying it contains too much government spending that would not stimulate the economy.

But Democrats who control both houses of Congress have mostly rebuffed Republicans, saying the combination of tax cuts and spending to rebuild roads, bridges and other projects in the bill would create or save up to 4 million jobs.   Continued...

<p>Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner testifies before the Senate Budget Committee during a hearing on "Policies to Address the Crises in Financial and Housing Markets" at Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 11, 2009. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts</p>