A small group of moderate senators including Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) reached the deal that appeared to assure Senate passage of an economic stimulus bill yesterday after more than 10 hours of near-constant private meetings.
Specter was in the middle of the action, with many critical talks occurring in his private "hideaway" office on the first floor of the Capitol.
Nobody involved was really happy, but there was a consensus that the group did not want to say no to the president or an anxious nation.
"Personally, I would prefer not to be on the edge of the pin, as so frequently is the case in this body," Specter said in a floor speech last night. "But I do believe we have to act, and under the circumstances, this is the best we can do."
In announcing that a tentative deal had been reached, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) credited Specter and Sens. Susan Collins (R., Maine), Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) and Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) with saving the package.
"But for them we would not be here," Reid said, yielding the floor to the Gang of Four to detail the agreement.
Specter said that based on the calls his office had received, supporting the stimulus legislation is a "very unpopular vote." Some calls, he said, thought the bill had "too many expenditures" and others said not enough money was being spent.
Indeed, some conservative Republicans have vowed to punish Specter, who is running for reelection next year, if he votes for legislation that they consider wasteful.
Lieberman, in a news conference, said Specter and Collins "really deserve the medal of honor for what they've done here tonight. They've put national interest ahead of party interest."
Specter said that against the backdrop of mounting job losses announced yesterday, "the psychological impact if we were to reject an activist approach would be devastating." He said the "eyes and ears of the world" were on the U.S. government, watching its response to the economic crisis.
Specter said he had already noted "certain grave concerns" with the stimulus legislation and had asked President Obama why he was "wedded" to completing action on it by Feb. 13. Specter said he told Obama this was too fast "for a bill of this magnitude."
But he said that Obama had stressed the urgency of action, so while "I don't like it," Specter said, "we're responding to this timetable."
Parts of the bill "give me heartburn," Specter said.
He outlined some of the $145 billion in spending reductions made to get to the consensus bill - for example, child care was allotted $2 billion initially, but $1.4 billion in the tentative deal. Many people are unhappy with such reductions, "but absent this bill, they get zero," he noted.
"There are reasons to argue that it's a bad bill," Specter said, "but I do not believe that there is any doubt that the economy would be enormously worse off without it."