Size and Scope

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The debate this morning, according to members of the Gang of 18, is about size and scope. The group is meeting in Senate Minority Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office as I type this. Ben Nelson, whom I profiled this morning, and Claire McCaskill both expressed optimism heading into the meeting. As did Reid on the Senate floor this morning, “I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said, though he went on to threaten a weekend “test vote” if an agreement is not hammered out today – a marked retreat from his boast yesterday on the floor that he had the 60 votes and he wouldn’t necessarily wait forever for the Gang of 18 to come to an agreement.

“Composition and size are still sticking points at this point, but I think we’re getting there on both of them,” McCaskill told reporters in front of Reid’s offices.

“The hope is we will still be able to pick up two more Republicans and if we’re able to do that then I think we’ll have sufficient numbers to get a vote,” Nelson told reporters. Nelson said they have some Republican support though they are still short a few votes of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster, meaning they may well have lost some moderate Dems since Democrats control 58 seats.

Maine Senator Susan Collins, who has been the lead Republican negotiator, was less optimistic. “We don’t have a deal,” she barked at press this morning. “We’re still working on it. I can’t talk right now.” 

Whatever reservations the last two Republicans have on the bill, Obama made his feelings clear on size and scope this morning after meeting with his Economic Advisory Board.

The bill before Congress isn’t perfect, but it is absolutely necessary.  We will continue to refine it and improve it.  There may be provisions in the bill that need to be left out and some that need to be added.  But broadly speaking, it is the right size. It is the right scope. It has the right priorities to create 3 to 4 million jobs and to do it in a way that lays the groundwork for long term growth by fixing our schools; modernizing health care to lower costs; repairing our roads, bridges, levees, and other vital infrastructure; and moving us towards energy independence.  It is what America needs right now. It will take months – even years – to renew our economy. But every day that Washington fails to act, that recovery is delayed.

And, as Karen notes, this morning’s dismal job numbers should help add some pressure on the Senate to get something passed today.

The group has gone back in to Reid’s office with the last two GOP targets, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and George Voinovich of Ohio. During the votes Olympia Snowe, Diane Feinstein and McCaskill all sounded upbeat, saying talks are going “great,” though no one is yet willing to say there is a deal. 

Thanks to commentator ewstephe for pointing out that Claire McCaskill just posted this on twitter: “meeting with Ben (Nelson) in 5 minutes Hopefully this will be the last “meeting of the moderates”. 

Clearly that was wishful thinking on McCaskill’s part. Voinovich just walked away from the talks, though Specter, Collins and Nelson are still talking. Things aren’t looking as good as they were a couple of hours ago, staff says. 

Rahm is here meeting with the Dems and Politico is reporting there’s a tentative deal on a $780 billion package. Still, McConnell’s spokesman Don Stewart warns me that he doesn’t expect a vote tonight, so I’m not sure how many Republicans have signed on.