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Senate passes fiscal stimulus bill

Andrew Ward in Washington | February 11, 2009

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The Senate passed its $838bn fiscal stimulus bill by 61 votes to 27 on Tuesday, clearing the way for Congress to thrash out final legislation for President Barack Obama to sign into law.

Democrats forced through the bill with support from only three moderate Republicans, dashing Mr Obama's hopes of bipartisan backing for the rescue plan.

Congress must now reconcile the Senate bill with the House of Representatives $819bn version passed last month before sending final legislation to the White House.

That process is sure to involve more difficult negotiations because the House version contains about $100bn more spending than the Senate bill, which includes more tax cuts.

Mr Obama has voiced disapproval of cuts made to education funding in the Senate bill and House Democrats have promised to fight to reinstate some of the spending during the bicameral conference process.

But Susan Collins, one of the Republicans who backed the Senate bill, warned that she would vote against final legislation if it overturned the spending limits she helped negotiate with Senate Democrats.

Mr Obama wants legislation ready to sign by the end of this week and Democratic leaders have promised to work through the President's Day holiday recess next week if necessary.

Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate finance committee, which helped craft the bill, urged Congress to act quickly.

"Every generation must face its own challenge," he said. "Responding to this economic emergency is ours. Let us not be found wanting."

But Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the Senate, said the bill was "full of waste".

"Most people know what it's like to charge a little more on the credit card than you should," he said. "They should know that their government is about to charge a lot more on the nation's credit than it can afford - and that it's counting on the taxpayers to cover the cost."

Mr Obama made his case for the stimulus at a public meeting in Florida on Tuesday, accompanied by Republican governor Charlie Crist, who supports the bill. It was the second consecutive day that the president had held campaign-style events outside Washington as he fights back against Republican opposition to his plans.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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