Senate moderates stay firm on cost of stimulus bill

Collins and Nelson say they will not commit to backing a final bill worth more than $800 billion.

With the Senate expected Monday evening to end debate on a roughly $820 billion Senate version of an economic stimulus plan, moderates who cut a deal to remove $100 billion in funding say they will resist House efforts to restore some of that money in conference and will push for further cuts during negotiations.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who led efforts to negotiate the substitute amendment reducing the cost of the bill, said they will not commit to backing a final bill worth more than $800 billion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday's cloture vote will allow passage of the amended version of the measure Tuesday.

"After final passage the House and Senate will move to conference and then send that to the president's desk," Reid said. To ensure passage of the bill, Collins and Nelson are set to vote Monday to back a version of the bill worth tens of billions more than what they say they will ultimately accept.

A spokesman for Collins said she "intends to vote for cloture this afternoon and she has made it clear to Democratic leadership that they will need to work in conference to bring the total cost down." Nelson and Collins and other senators are hoping their position as brokers of the Senate deal will allow them to stave off any House push to increase spending on areas such as school construction funding, which the Senate deal eliminates.

Collins "has not made any commitment to vote for the bill if it comes back from the conference committee bloated with projects that were reduced during the bipartisan compromise negotiations," her spokesman said.

Senate aides said that to make the deal stick, Collins and Nelson hope to win places among conferees appointed to negotiate with the House. A spokeswoman for Reid said conferees will not be named before Tuesday's vote.

House Democratic leaders backed away from a plan to start preliminary negotiations even before the Senate approved its version. "The Senate is petrified that any pre-negotiations will scare off the [moderates]," said one Democratic aide. The partisan divide over the measure continues to sharpen, particularly in the House, where Democratic leaders are looking to gain political advantage.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Monday that it is using robocalls to target seven freshman Republicans for voting against the House version of the bill. The seven are Reps. Bill Cassidy and John Fleming of Louisiana, Brett Guthrie of Kentucky, Leonard Lance of New Jersey, Chris Lee of New York, Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri, and Tom Rooney of Florida. The calls follow radio ad buys in 28 Republican districts nationwide, including the districts of the seven GOP freshmen. The push came as President Obama and his aides urged swift passage of the bill.

"The American people support it and we're urging everyone in Congress to catch up with the people on this one," White House political adviser David Axelrod said aboard Air Force One as Obama flew to Elkhart, Ind., for a town hall meeting about the economy.

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.