No stimulus tonight

The Senate takes off without final action -- or a deal -- on an economic recovery bill, but lawmakers seem to think they'll have better luck Friday

By Mike Madden

Published February 6, 2009 2:03AM (EST)

WASHINGTON -- The Senate has just called it a night.

There's still no deal to move to a final vote on an economic stimulus bill that's now grown to about $900 billion, despite increasing pressure from the Obama administration. But lawmakers seem to think a bipartisan group of moderates can hash something out Friday that will pass the Senate more easily than the Democratic bill that's on the floor.

"We're going to stop legislating tonight and come back tomorrow," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada announced on the floor of the Senate a little before 9 p.m. "The main reason I look forward to tomorrow is because there are a number of Democratic senators working with Republican senators... We all need to take a look at the work done by the negotiators."

Those may not be inspiring words to anyone wondering why Democrats are negotiating at all over a bill that President Obama has said must pass a Congress controlled by the largest Democratic majorities in years. But while Reid and his allies believe they have enough votes to keep Republicans from filibustering the bill, they're not 100 percent sure. If moderates like Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine can come up with a version that both wins some GOP votes and eases concerns by some Democrats over the bill, passage would be a lot easier.

Aides on Capitol Hill and at the White House still sound pretty confident that the Senate will pass the legislation soon, setting up final House-Senate-White House negotiations in time to get the bill to Obama's desk before next weekend.

Just to be sure, though, Obama kept up the pressure tonight. In a speech in Williamsburg, Va., to the House Democratic caucus, he pushed Congress to, basically, stop screwing around.

"The American people are watching," he said, in remarks that the White House released just about when the Senate took off for the night. "They did not send us here to get bogged down with the same old delay and distractions. They did not vote for the false theories of the past. They did not vote for the status quo -- they sent us here to bring change, and we owe it to them to act. This is the moment for leadership that matches the great test of our time."

But it's apparently not the moment for leadership that works around the clock. "I think staying here tonight would not benefit us," Reid said. They'll be back in action at 10 a.m. -- watch live here.

Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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