Senate Moves Closer to Passing Stimulus Package

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The U.S. Senate moved closer Monday to passing a huge economic stimulus package, but a compromise version of the bill cuts about US$2 billion in spending for broadband deployment across the U.S.

Senate leaders said they hoped to schedule a vote late Monday to end debate on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If Democrats get the 60 votes needed to end debate, a final vote on the bill would take place sometime Tuesday, said Senator Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and Senate majority leader.

Three Republicans were likely to join 48 Democrats to vote to end debate late Monday. Most Republicans in the Senate complained that the bill costs too much and has long-term spending programs that won't help the U.S. economy.

With only three Republicans in both the Senate and House joining Democrats in supporting the bill, the legislation is not getting the bipartisan support that President Barack Obama had hoped for, said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who ran against Obama for the presidency. The legislation will pass U.S. government debt on to future taxpayers, he added.

"This is neither bipartisan nor a compromise," McCain said. "It is generational theft."

A new version of the $780 billion bill negotiated in the Senate could cut $2 billion from $9 billion for broadband deployment in rural and other underserved areas, although the Senate bill would still include more broadband money than the $6 billion in the House of Representatives version of the bill, passed Jan. 29.

Obama and other supporters of broadband spending say broadband service will bring new economic opportunities to people in areas without broadband.

Supporters of broadband spending said they were disappointed with the Senate cuts, negotiated by Senators Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, and other lawmakers.

"We're disappointed that the Senate cut broadband spending without any adequate reason for doing so," S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press, a media reform group, said via e-mail. "Without a doubt, building broadband infrastructure will immediately create tens of thousands of jobs and will be a vital first step on the path to economic recovery. However, we do feel that $7 billion is still a sizable amount of money and represents a good down payment on our digital future."

Free Press has called on Congress to approve a $44 billion broadband package.

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