WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers worked late into the night on Tuesday haggling over a final package of tax cuts and spending initiatives, as talks centered on an $800 billion package to fight the deepening recession.
"We're not there, but we've made a significant amount of progress the last 10 hours," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters after he wrapped up Tuesday's final negotiating session.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he hoped an agreement could be reached on Wednesday, but declined to detail the progress made.
Earlier, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said during a pause in late-night meetings that "$800 billion is a figure that has been mentioned" by senators as a final price tag for the bill.
The negotiations in the Capitol, with White House officials attending, began shortly after the Senate passed its $838 billion version of a rescue plan to fight a year-old recession that brings mounting job losses nationwide.
The House of Representatives has approved about $820 billion in spending and tax cuts. The negotiations, by a small group of lawmakers from the Senate and House, are aimed at reconciling the two versions.
President Barack Obama wants the Democratic-controlled Congress to deliver a package by this weekend so he can sign it into law. But he must keep together a narrow coalition that wants the price tag lowered to about $800 billion.
The Senate voted 61-37 on Tuesday to approve its version, with support from just three Republicans, while the House had last month passed its package with no Republican support.
Obama met Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, at the White House earlier on Tuesday to discuss moving ahead and later the new president, on a visit to Florida to build support, called the Senate vote "good news."
On its own, the stimulus package is unlikely to fix the struggling economy because it does not address financial sector problems. As long as banks face losses and struggle to raise money, lending will be limited and so will economic growth.
The Obama administration is trying to address this problem on a separate track through a bank rescue program unveiled by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Tuesday.
WALL STREET UNIMPRESSED
But Wall Street reacted skeptically. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 382 points or 4.62 percent as traders cited fears that the new plan would not go far enough to resolve the financial crisis.
The House and Senate approved different mixes of income tax credits and tax incentives to rejuvenate the shattered housing market, as well as tens of billions of dollars for infrastructure projects, healthcare and education.
To win the votes in the Senate needed to pass the stimulus bill, senators cut from its package tens of billions of dollars including $16 billion for school construction and $40 billion in direct aid to states facing growing budget gaps.
Those changes lured three Republicans who were needed to advance the bill in the Senate, where Democrats have only 58 of the 60 votes needed to clear potential procedural hurdles.
But in a sign of tough negotiations ahead, Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who helped broker the initial compromise, said she could not again vote for the measure if it stayed at the current size.
"I'm not saying what's in, what's out. I'm just saying the bottom line must be under $800 billion," she told reporters after the Senate vote.
But Obama has already said he wants some education funds restored to the package and other Democrats have said they believe it should have more spending included.
"There will be an effort to make some changes in the education sectors," said Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat. But he cautioned that Republicans were dead-set against federal money to build schools.
REPUBLICAN HELP NEEDED
He said that negotiators will need the approval of any new details by the three Republican senators who voted for the Senate bill: Collins, Olympia Snowe, also of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said provisions to offer $50 billion in tax breaks for buying a home or a new car would probably stay in but be modified.
"The main thing is the final conference report is going to be very similar to the Senate bill because that's where the votes are," he said.
Republicans have demanded the focus should be more on tax cuts than spending that they say will not boost the economy.
"It's entirely too large, entirely too untargeted and, more than anything else, it's not timely," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Obama has rejected the Republican push for more tax cuts, arguing such policies under former Republican President George W. Bush contributed to the current crisis.
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