The federal stimulus bill advanced one step closer to presidential signature Monday evening, sustaining hopes that billions of dollars will soon flow into Connecticut in the form of tax credits and spending projects.
The Senate sustained a vote of cloture Monday, ending debate on its $838 billion version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – as the stimulus bill is known – and setting the stage for a final vote later today. Legislators hope to have the bill on President Obama’s desk by the end of next week after both houses negotiate its final form in a conference committee. Experts are uncertain what shape the final bill will take, or what its impact on Connecticut will be. But, they say, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will likely fight some of the Senate’s provisions that, they argue, inadequately address the nation’s cities’ needs.
Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, along with Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are widely credited with providing the 60 votes needed to end debate and move the bill to a vote over Republican opposition. Collins, Snowe and Specter were the only Republicans to vote for the bill.
In a statement earlier Monday, Lieberman acknowledged some worthwhile programs were cut from the bill, but said Congress could not wait to act.
“In order to achieve this compromise, some funding for important and worthy programs was not included because the money was not directly related to our immediate economic recovery,” he said. “Our economic house is burning and Congress cannot afford to wait to put out this fire.”
The House version of the bill provides nearly $550 million dollars for infrastructure and $1.2 billion in federal matching Medicaid funding to Connecticut; specific numbers for the Senate version were not available at press time.
In a press conference last week, New Haven Rep. Rosa DeLauro said the House bill provides a bold response to challenging problems facing the nation including rising unemployment and financial market instability.
“To confront these challenges we have an urgent responsibility to invest wisely to target limited resources to the proven initiatives that we know will create jobs and provide a critical relief [to our economy],” she said. “There are two principles in this economic recovery package: create jobs and prevent states and municipalities from having to cut back on services.”
In a telephone interview last week, Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut’s 2nd congressional district hailed the bill’s $145 billion in need-based higher education funding, which would raise Pell grants by $500 over the next two years and increase the limit on Stafford loans by $2000. He was quite pleased, he said, that the bill increased education funding in this time of tightened finances, believing that the funds would positively affect Conn. residents.
“The education proposals in this bill are huge,” said Courtney. “The $2,500 tuition tax credit included in the bill will reach into the middle class and help people through the economic crisis and beyond.”
The Senate version of the bill cuts back on many of these proposals, slashing a full $108 billion from President Obama’s proposal — including $40 billion for state aid and education — because of an approximately $100 billion increase in federal tax cuts, or $100 billion fewer that the government can spend. The House bill provides $182.5 billion in federal tax cuts.
Nelson said in a statement last week that the Senate version of the bill “trimmed the fat, fried the bacon, and milked the sacred cows.”
Though reportedly upset by the tax cuts, Obama has been decidedly pragmatic in public.
“The plan is not perfect,” he said in his first press conference as president Monday night. “No plan is. I can’t tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans.”