What if you threw a Porkulus meeting and no one came? Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer just found out:
Senators negotiating a final compromise economic stimulus package said the House of Representatives and Senate agreed Wednesday on a $789.5 billion package that scales back tax breaks for new car and home buyers while restoring some cuts in state education aid and health care.
But after the announcement, a joint conference committee meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. was postponed after House Democrats did not show up.
Senators said they still expected an agreement later Wednesday, and it was unclear that the agreement had run into difficulties. Senate staff members said the delay was merely to allow House members who had been expected to oppose some aspects of the Senate bill to express their feelings privately.
According to Senators Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, key moderates who helped craft the agreement, the new bill includes $54 billion for education, less than $79 billion House members had wanted and more than the $39 billion senators approved.
The new bill has no money for school construction, increases to $90 billion the amount of money that would be sent to states to help pay Medicaid costs, and also increases to $49.6 billion the amount of money that would be devoted to infrastructure projects.
Democrats have not been totally enamored of the bill, but for differing reasons. Some complain that it relies too heavily on government spending, while others object to the tax cuts. However, only eleven of them balked at supporting the original plan, HR1, when it came to the floor last week, and I doubt that they’ll get even that many breaking ranks this time.
The conferees deliberately trimmed off enough to get the bill under $800 billion in an attempt to woo Republicans. It might work, but it shouldn’t. The cuts didn’t come in government spending but in eliminating tax cuts, including potentially stimulating breaks designed to get people to buy houses and cars. It makes a bad bill even worse, and emphasizes the pork in Porkulus.
Will the conference version create a rebellion or a split? Almost certainly not. Pelosi and Hoyer won’t allow it. Expect plenty of pressure to come down on House Democrats to present a united front. They don’t want to give Republicans any reason to remain firm in their opposition. They can pass the bill without the GOP, at least in the House, but they want even a thin fig leaf of bipartisanship when this winds up making matters worse. Getting stood up at a party may not be the best start, but Hoyer and Pelosi know how to twist enough arms to end any doubt about the eventual outcome.