WASHINGTON - Moving with lightning speed, key lawmakers announced agreement Wednesday on a $789 billion economic stimulus measure designed to create millions of jobs in a nation reeling from recession. President Barack Obama could sign the bill within days.
"The middle ground we've reached creates more jobs than the original Senate bill and costs less than the original House bill," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of the participants in an exhausting and frenzied round of bargaining.
The bill includes help for victims of the recession in the form of unemployment benefits, food stamps, health coverage and more, as well as billions for states that face the prospect of making deep cuts in their own programs.
It also preserves Obama's signature tax cut — a break for millions of lower and middle income taxpayers, including those who don't earn enough to pay income taxes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was conspicuously absent from the news conference in which members of the Senate announced the agreement, and it was not clear whether she stayed away out of unhappiness or a scheduling conflict.
Officials had said previously that one of the final issues to be settled was money for school modernization, a priority of Pelosi as well as Obama and one on which they differed with Collins and other moderates whose votes will be essential for final Senate approval.
It was not immediately clear when final votes in the two houses would occur. A House vote was possible as early as Thursday, with the Senate to follow before lawmakers begin a scheduled weeklong vacation.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House, but the president's chief of staff and other aides were intimately involved in the negotiations that led to the agreement.