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Tentative Deal Reached in Senate on Stimulus Bill

Aired February 6, 2009 - 18:00   ET


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, that's where we stand on this issue right now.

And I can tell you that -- this is according to our Ted Barrett, who is also working those halls as we speak. He spoke with a leadership aide on the Republican side who said that they think inside the Republican leadership that this probably would get 60. That would be the bare minimum, the squeaker, 60 votes or 61 votes. And most Republicans will likely vote against this package, because most think it's just too big.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If they get two or three Republicans, they might be there to get that critical 60 votes necessary to end debate and move on.

John King, we heard earlier in the day from George Voinovich, the Republican senator from Ohio who was involved in these negotiations. And he's out now. He could change his mind based on what's happened over the past few hours. But that was a significant setback for those who wanted a deal to emerge.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was because of his profile, Wolf. He is viewed as a pragmatist, not an ideologue, a conservative, but not some -- but someone who is willing to try to make a deal.

He's a former mayor and he is from an industrial state that has suffered greatly in the recession. So, when somebody like Senator Voinovich walks away -- and he is leaving the Senate at the end of his term -- when somebody like Senator Voinovich walks away from the talks, you think they are having trouble finding the middle, if you will, in the negotiations.

But just to look forward just a little bit, remember how remarkable we all found it last night when President Obama went to Virginia and spoke to the House Democrats, where he publicly embraced their work in the House and was very publicly critical of the Republicans.

In being critical, he said, look, let's not let the perfect be the enemy of what we need to do urgently. That was a message last night to the Republicans. If he get this compromise through the Senate, Wolf, at $780 billion, what happens when it goes back over to the House? Because, as you know, many of the Democratic chairmen there have a more liberal view of what needs to be done.

And they believe even that the $819 billion they passed was not enough for the economy. Will the president say split the difference and try to get an $800 billion deal or will he lean on Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, and say, Madam speaker, I need you to convince your members who will say this is not enough and maybe not the right mix of spending and tax cuts, to accept the Senate plan.

So, this president's leadership will be tested. He is getting help in the Senate from these compromise negotiations. Assuming this holds -- we have all been here before and seen deal like this collapse -- but assuming it holds in the Senate, he would still have a very big leadership question and challenge back in the House.

BLITZER: And we are in this now window, approximately a half-an- hour, less than a half-hour now, before the Senate reconvenes. They are in recess right now, as Harry Reid, the majority leader, meets with his Democrats. He wants to make sure that all of them are on board. He needs every single vote to get to that magic number of 60 in order to close debate and get this legislation passed.

Let's go back to Dana on Capitol Hill.

I know you are in constant touch with sources up there, Dana. What else are you hearing?

BASH: Well, I'm also -- I'm already getting kind of the message that I think we are likely to hear when those Democratic leaders come out. This is from a Democratic leadership source.

And this source says: "We have achieved close to 90 percent of what we were looking for. We have a package that will create over three million jobs, provide increased funding for education, health care and infrastructure and state relief."

So, here you have I think the beginning of the message. I think John was alluding to the fact that it is not going to be easy still to combine these two ideas if this does in fact get through the Senate, and it's still an if at this point, with the House side, because their package was bigger.

One of the things that they have been negotiating back and forth is something that has really irked some Democrats. And that is that these moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats, one of the things that they have cut in terms of things that they called excess spending has been education, a lot of cuts in education, programs like Head Start and even things for special education.

And Dick Durbin, the number-two Democrat of the Senate, told me and others in the hallway this morning, that has been very tough for us to sell to our fellow Democrats, because they don't like the idea of cutting education.

But at the same time, you have others who want to vote for this and say we like the idea of funding education, but it just doesn't belong in a stimulus bill, because it doesn't create jobs.

BLITZER: I want to go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, who is watching this unfold. It's certainly not everything that the president wanted, this tentative $780 billion compromise, if in fact gets through, but it does take him pretty much a long way down the road. Dan, what are you hearing from sources over at the White House?


We have put out word to various senior administration officials, still trying to get some reaction. Have not gotten any reaction yet from the White House to this.

But as you mentioned, yesterday, when Mr. Obama was on Air Force One, he was asked about this bill, felt pretty good that it would get done by today and also said that it would be in the range of $800 billion. So, now you are seeing that in this tentative deal.

But what you today from the president was really an aggressive approach, really sort of laying out the case and pointing to these jobless numbers that we saw today and saying to Congress, this is what we are going to have if we can't get the deal done; this corrosion, this erosion that we are seeing in the economy is only going to continue.

And so you saw that mounting problem, using stronger language to really push Congress to get something done. And it does appear, at least, in the initial stages here, that there is this tentative deal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is here with us.

Ali, some want a lot more, a trillion dollars. Some say that is way too much. They want a lot less -- $780 billion, here's the question. Will it do for the U.S. economy in the next weeks and months assuming there is a deal done and it passes the House and the Senate, the president signs it into law, is that enough to get the -- to turn the economy around?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, half of this is what's in the bill and the other half is the confidence it will instill in Americans as consumers and as business owners that there is some solution, there's some light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, one of the big things that happened today is we lost a lot of jobs, 600,000, 598,000. That's the worst we have seen in a long time, in more than 30 years. But also we had a market that ended very positively, because on Monday we think that Tim Geithner, the treasury secretary, is going to announce what he is going to do with the second half of TARP.

So, ultimately...


BLITZER: That's the $350 billion for the financial sector.

VELSHI: The $350 billion that is left, right.

So, if that helps banks and if that somehow is directed in a way that the first $350 billion wasn't so that people actually get access to that credit and small businesses do, the combination of that was, plus some infrastructure spending, plus some safety net stuff that helps those who have been put out of jobs, and a fairly large tax cut component, bigger than we have seen before, well, you have got to find some solace in there somewhere for whoever you are in America.

And if it instills confidence that we're going in the right director, ultimately this economy turns around, not when the government does something. It's when consumers start buying, investors start seeing consumers buying. They stop laying people off and this thing comes to an end.

And it could be a matter of months before that happens if we are firing on all cylinders, so it's a good start.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, if you're still with us, I know you are checking in. I'm curious. Senator Judd Gregg, the Republican senator from New Hampshire, who has been tapped by the president to become the commerce secretary, as far as I know, he is still a United States senator right now.

BASH: He is.

BLITZER: He hasn't been confirmed. Is he one of those Republicans who is on board with the president? I assume he is, but I don't know if you have heard anything.

BASH: It's a very good question, Wolf, and it's an interesting answer, because our congressional producer, Ted Barrett, looked into this earlier today. And he heard from Judd Gregg's Senate office that he is actually planning to recuse himself and not vote.

It's an interesting decision, certainly not one that he has any requirement to make, and one that is a little bit curious, given the fact that he could help the person who will probably be his new boss pass a very important piece of legislation. But according to Senator Gregg's Senate office, he apparently has decided not to vote on this and to recuse himself.

BLITZER: Because every one of those votes would be magic in order to get to 60. That's the magic number.


BLITZER: Not 50 or 51, but in order to stop the debate, you need 60 votes. And that Judd Gregg decision would be significant if in fact if it happened, if they didn't get to 60.

But, Gloria, based on your knowledge of the Senate, if the Democrats don't have that 60 vote, they are not going to let this come up for a vote. They are going to continue this discussion at least for the time being. They're not going to humiliated, embarrassed if they only can get 59, let's say. GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Dana knows more about that than I do.

There were two schools of thought on this. One is of course you wouldn't bring it up to a vote. The other is embarrass the Republicans into holding up a stimulus package that most of the public believes is very important to this country.

And one thing I would also like to add, Wolf, and there was a CBS poll yesterday which showed that 81 percent of the American public wants a stimulus package that is bipartisan. The public wants to see Democrats working with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate working with Democrats in the House, I might add.

And so it's going to be up to this president. As John King was saying earlier, he has been using the words catastrophe, irresponsible, inexcusable not to get something done. So if the Senate does come up with something, he is going to have to use those same words to House Democrats who are as Dana Bash suggested very upset about some of these education money that will be rescinded as part of this compromise to say, OK, this isn't perfect, but we have got to do something now.

So it is really going to be a test for President Obama.

BLITZER: And we heard one of those Democrats, Dianne Feinstein of California, earlier in the day. She is not very happy that they are stripping away what she would regard as vital funding for various programs, not only in California, but around the country.

Let me play this little clip from what Senator Feinstein said earlier in the day.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I have had very little to do with this bill in the sense of writing it. I think most of us feel somewhat the same way.

I am growing increasingly concerned about the bill as to whether it's really going to be a stimulus. I reserve the right at the end of the day to vote against the package that I don't think it puts those jobs out there.


BLITZER: Now, she is being critical, Paul, from the left. She is saying don't take away $100 billion which is desperately needed around the country for infrastructure programs or whatever. And she is not very happy. You hear this from the left among Democrats all the time.


And in the interest of full disclosure, Dianne Feinstein is a former client of mine. Many years ago, I worked for her in 1994 in her reelection. So, I'm a great admirer of hers.

She was a mayor before she came to the Senate. She is a very practical, pragmatic person who wants to get things done, wants to create and generate jobs.

And what I suspect the Democratic leadership is saying to Senator Feinstein and some of the others is those are legitimate concerns, but rather than focus on, say, the 10 percent of the bill that you are losing that you think is good that we have to do to get the Republican support, let's focus on the 90 percent that will help to deliver jobs to places like California.

And I think there is a different message being sent to those moderate Republicans, which is you better be bipartisan now, or you are going to regret it later, because if they want to play partisan, they are going to be playing partisan against a president who carried states like Indiana and North Carolina and Virginia and Florida, all of which I think are places Democrats have never run very strong in the last couple of years.

So, there's two different messages going one, one to the Democrats that is saying let's look on the bright side, we're still getting 90 percent of what the president asked for, and then the other to those moderates, to say if you think you want bipartisanship, now is the time to prove it.

BLITZER: Alex Castellanos, what's the message that you are hearing out there?

Alex is our Republican strategist?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think what Republicans are expecting to happen next and what I think is determining a lot of their actions, is they are expecting President Obama to take this bill, if it passes the Senate, back to the House, and Republicans are thinking he is going to throw some Democrats and some Democratic pork under the bus, Nancy Pelosi under the bus a little bit here.

He is going to the nation and say, you know, you were right. There's too much pork in this bill. Here, we're going to cut a little bit of it.

And that is going to strengthen his hand in the House to reach a compromise on this bill. And while he cuts pork, the Democrats are going to walk away with the deed to the whole farm, because they will have gotten the biggest expansion of government in American history.

BLITZER: This is really a decisive moment in this legislation, in the stimulus package.

Candy Crowley is our senior correspondent who has covered Capitol Hill for a long time.

We have seen these kinds of debates, the recess, waiting for them to reconvene over the years. But the stakes right now, Candy, given the horrible state of the economy in the United States, the stakes are enormous.


And I think that the president has tried to make that clear as he pushes for this plan. One of the things I think sort of has been lost in all this is that when Congress does things quickly, it tends to not always work out well.

The Patriot Act and the first stimulus bill and the first bailout of financial institutions all required either regret or going back and fixing things. So, I think it will be interesting as this plays out because we have already seen that slippage in public support for the specifics of this stimulus package, what will happen in those conference committees where really the bulk of bills tend to really be shaped.

And also even though you think it would come out somewhere between the money that the House would like to spend and the money that the Senate would like to spend, those conference committee have a way of upping the cost of a bill, which I think will make it even more difficult for Republicans in the end to vote for it.

BLITZER: Yes, but the Democrats don't need a whole lot of Republicans in order to get the job done.

If they two or three or four -- Dana Bash, you have been counting those heads up on the Hill -- presumably, that will get to the magic number of 60.

BASH: Presumably if just as you have been -- the question you have been posing for the past hour is really the right one, Wolf -- if they get all of those Democratic votes.

Remember, these bipartisan talks, there were maybe 10 Democrats in these talks, and they were all really, really focused on some of the same issues moderate Republicans were. How do we make sure that we don't spend too much on spending that they don't consider stimulative, spending that really won't create jobs?

However, the other side of this equation are Democrats who make an argument like we heard from Dianne Feinstein. Wait a minute. We need to spend money on some of these programs. We need to keep the number up in order to have a stimulative effect. So, Harry Reid has to make sure he doesn't lose Democrats to that side, to the left, if you will, of his party as part of this deal.

BLITZER: All right, I want everybody to stand by.

It's a critical moment right now. We are watching the U.S. Senate getting ready to reconvene momentarily. We're going to watch all of this live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for the breaking news.

We will continue our coverage.

I want to check in with Jack Cafferty, though, right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Earlier this week, President Obama said that executives at companies that get bailout moan will not be allowed to earn more than $500,000 a year. Poor things. And if the companies want to pay them more than that, well, it has to be in the form of stocks that can't be sold until the loans are all paid back to the federal government with interest.

The Wall Street and financial firms say it's all unfair. They say talented executives will leave for greener pastures and fatter paychecks at companies that don't take bailout money, maybe. We will have to wait and see how many of those are still around in a few months if and when this stimulus package gets through Congress. And as you have been hearing, at this moment, that's far from a sure thing either. But I digress.

Let's go back to how to make it on $500,000 a year. Cancel the country club membership, sell the yacht, the vacation home, homes, maybe have junior apply somewhere besides the Ivy League, where college goes for upwards of $60,000 a year, list the Hummer and the all-terrain vehicles on eBay, maybe check into the cost of a membership in Costco.

It is not going to be easy.

Here's the question: How would your life change if you were forced, forced to live on $500,000 a year? Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: It's a problem I suspect most of our viewers would be thrilled to have.

Jack, thank you.

CAFFERTY: We will see.

BLITZER: The breaking news on Capitol Hill, we are following it right now. We are standing by for the Senate to reconvene, to return to session momentarily.

Here's the question. Is there a deal that will allow this economic stimulus package to go through? We are tracking all the details for you. We will also hear directly from President Obama as he weighed in dramatically today on the economic recovery package.

Stay with us. Our coverage of the breaking news on Capitol Hill continues right after this.


BLITZER: The breaking news this hour: a tentative deal on Capitol Hill, in the U.S. Senate specifically, $780 billion to go forward with the economic stimulus package.

Right now, the senators, the Democratic senator, they are caucusing behind closed doors to make sure all of them are aboard. They need 60 -- 60 -- votes in order to move this legislation forward. And they want to make sure they have it. They need at least a few Republicans on board.

All of our reporters and analysts are standing by, including Donna Brazile -- she is joining us, the Democratic strategist -- John King. Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill. She's watching all of this unfold. Paul Begala, our Democratic strategist, is there. Candy Crowley is there. Dan Lothian is over at the White House. Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, and Alex Castellanos, our Republican strategist.

Let's go to Dana Bash first.

Dana, remind our viewers right now what's happening behind closed doors. We have live pictures of a microphone outside a door in the Senate. We expect to hear from Harry Reid or one of the Democratic leaders pretty soon.

BASH: We're hope to, because the Democrats have been meeting for quite a while now talking about this tentative agreement that the leadership seems to have made with at least one of the Republicans that they have been negotiating with. That is Susan Collins of Maine.

I can tell you that the other Republican from Maine, Olympia Snowe, is already somebody who has been seriously considering voting for some kind of package that -- like this. In fact she went to the White House earlier this week to meet with the president and sounded quite positive about it if she got some spending cuts.

Well, I was just told by somebody in her office that she has not seen the details of this, specifically the spending for the stimulus package. So, she is not sure how she is going to vote.

But can also just -- to give you a little bit color as to what's going on as we speak, she just got a call from President Obama to talk to her about this. So, that just shows you the urgent jockeying that is going on as we are discussing this, and as the details of this are being discussed behind closed doors with the key players that are needed in order to pass this.

BLITZER: He is only in his third week as president of the United States and this is a critical, critical moment for President Barack Obama.

And he made that clear earlier today, when he spoke out rather passionately.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If there's anyone, anywhere, who doubts the need for wise counsel, and bold and immediate action, just consider the very troubling news we received just this morning.

Last month, another 600,000 Americans lost their jobs. That is the single worst month of job loss in 35 years. The Department of Labor also adjusted their job loss numbers for 2008 upwards, and now report that we've lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began.

That's 3.6 million Americans who wake up every day wondering how they are going to pay their bills, stay in their homes, and provide for their children. That's 3.6 million Americans who need our help.

I'm sure that at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue members of the Senate are reading these same numbers this morning. And I hope they share my sense of urgency and draw the same, unmistakable conclusion: The situation could not be more serious.

These numbers demand action. It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay or politics as usual while millions of Americans are being put out of work. Now is the time for Congress to act. It's time to pass an economic recovery and reinvestment plan to get our economy moving.

This is not some abstract debate. It is an urgent and growing crisis that can only be fully understood through the unseen stories that lie underneath each and every one of those 600,000 jobs that were lost this month.

Somewhere in America, a small business has shut its doors; somewhere in America a family said goodbye to their home; somewhere in America a young parent has lost their livelihood, and they don't know what's going to take its place.

These Americans are counting on us, all of us in Washington. We have to remember that we're here to work for them, and if we drag our feet and fail to act, this crisis could turn into a catastrophe. We'll continue to get devastating job reports like today's, month after month, year after year.

It's very important to understand that, although we had a terrible year with respect to jobs last year, the problem is accelerating, not decelerating. It's getting worse, not getting better.

Almost half of the jobs that were lost have been lost just in the last couple of months. These aren't my assessments. These are the assessments of independent economists.

If we don't do anything, millions more jobs will be lost.

More families will lose their homes. More Americans will go without health care. We'll continue to send our children to crumbling schools and be crippled by our dependence on foreign oil. That's the result of the inaction, and it's not unacceptable to the American people.

They did not choose more of the same in November. They did not send us to Washington to get stuck in partisan posturing, to try to score political points. They did not send us here to turn back to the same tried and failed approaches that were rejected because we saw the results. They sent us here to make change with the expectation that we would act.

Now, I have repeatedly acknowledged that given the magnitude and the difficulties of the problem we're facing, there are silver bullets and there ware no easy answers. The bill that's emerged from Congress is not perfect, but a bill is absolutely necessary. We can continue to improve and refine both the House and Senate versions of these bills. There may be provisions in there that need to be left out, there may be some provisions that need to be added.

But broadly speaking, the package is the right size, it has the right scope and 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; move us toward energy independence. That is what America needs. It will take months, even years, to renew our economy. But every day that Washington fails to act, that recovery is delayed.


BLITZER: The president of the United States speaking earlier today.

And it looks now like he may be getting -- repeat, may be getting -- what he wanted, at least something close to what he has wanted.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, breaking the news that said there seems to be a tentative compromise, $780 billion deal, that would bring at least some Republicans along with the Democrats to get to that magic number of 60 and see this emerge from the U.S. Senate.

It would then go back to a House-Senate conference committee. They try to resolve differences before they approve it.

We are expecting, by the way, within a few moments a formal announcement of this tentative deal. We are expecting to hear from Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Excuse me. Excuse me -- Ben Nelson, Democratic senator from Nebraska. Excuse me -- Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine. We expect to hear word from them shortly on this tentative agreement. They have been working behind the scenes to try to get it done.

It looks like the Democrats will be on board, but they need a few Republicans. Susan Collins would be one, Olympia Snowe, potentially, of Maine another.

And we're going to get official word from Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine momentarily. The Senate is set to reconvene within the next few minutes.

Donna Brazile is our Democratic strategist. I know, Donna, all of us have been working the phones, working the BlackBerrys. What are you hearing now from your sources, who are obviously very well-plugged-in?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they are all in that meeting right now.

And I can tell you this much. I spoke to someone on Senator Landrieu's staff. They are looking for some bipartisan help and support. And Senator Collins is more than willing to work with the Democrats, because she understands this job will not only save jobs, create jobs, lay the foundation for future jobs.

And, Wolf, when you learn, as I did this morning, waking up here in Louisiana, 137,000 people lost their jobs over the last year, over 19,000 people each and every day across the country are losing their jobs, this is an emergency. And it's time that we put all of the partisanship aside and really find out how this bill can go forward with some of those important job-creation initiatives still intact.

BLITZER: Alex Castellanos, our Republican strategist, this is really a defining moment for Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

CASTELLANOS: Very much so.

And the Democrats still own this bill, Wolf. Yes, he is getting a few -- it looks like a Republican votes in the Senate, but it's kind of the Democratic-lite Republicans. It's the wussy Republicans. It's -- Republicans are -- Barack Obama really has redefined Republicans and reminded them who they are.

They are the anti-big-government-spending crowd. Republicans have found their voice here. Yes, they want to act in a bipartisan manner to do something about this crisis, but they don't want to pour kerosene on this fire. And that's what a lot of Republicans think this does.

BLITZER: John King, our chief national correspondent, is watching all of this unfold, together with all of us.

As they say, a win is a win is a win. If he gets all the Democrats on board and a few Republicans, he still wins, because the rules in the House obviously much different. And he has got an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives.

KING: He needs to pass this bill, Wolf.

He has been out now publicly. He did five television interviews this past week, in part to clear up the personnel controversy around his pick for Health and Human Services secretary, but in part to try to sell this legislation.

He went to the Democratic Caucus last night, opened that event to cameras so that he could speak not only to members of Congress, but to the American people. He had that powerful statement from earlier you just showed at the top of the program.

The president has put his credibility on the line here and he needs legislation. And he has said he wants it by next Friday, by the time Congress goes on break for its recess.

He would like eight or 10 Republicans in the Senate and 12 or 15 in the House. It appears unlikely he will get that. So building brought broader bipartisanship will be a challenge, it appears, even if that this deal goes through.

And I say enough if, because, as Dana has noted, this is a tentative deal. And the Senate can be very tricky, especially when it comes to taking a deal and agreeing to it in a meeting and actually typing it up on paper and seeing if everyone will sign up.

But the president needs this. And this alone -- to the point Alex was making -- Republicans have made a calculation that too much spending on stimulus, on the financial bailout and otherwise, will alienate their base if they support it and will potentially create a political opening for them in the long run if there is not a quick turnaround in the economy.

So Republicans -- most of them believe it is a safe vote to vote no. And the key test will be -- and you see some of the leaders coming out here. I believe that's Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate.

The key test will be by the time we get to an election, politically, are there jobs being created in the economy?

But, Wolf, anybody watching us at home right now who has lost their job, knows somebody who is about to lose their job or thinks in the next few months they may lose their job, they don't care all that much about the political calculations. But they are a part of the debate here in Washington, without a doubt.

BLITZER: All right. It looks like the Senate has now reconvened. They've been called to order. We're expecting to hear, we've been -- we're waiting to hear what's going on.

We just saw Dick Durbin, by the way. We just saw Dick Durbin walk out, the number two Democrat.

Maybe they -- the Senate, they reconvened just for a moment to say that they're going to stay in recess until 7:00 p.m.. So another half hour or so before the Senate reconvenes. It looks like the Democrats still have some more talking to do behind closed doors.

I want to bring in Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee right now. He's one of those who is adamantly opposed to this legislation, to this economic stimulus package, as written right now.

Senator Corker, if Susan Collins and a few other Republicans are on board for this tentative $780 billion compromise, is that something you could live with? SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Well, look -- and I don't know what the number is. It does take three Republicans for this to pass. So certainly that's an improvement.

But, no, Wolf, this is this bill is a disaster. And I can see it in my colleagues' eyes, even on the other side of the aisle -- in their eyes on the other side of the aisle because they know that there is so much wasteful spending. They certainly want to support the president. I want him to be successful.

But I believe the best way they can help him is to cause him to stop, to not have this huge federal and state spending.

And so I would guess that this meeting that they're having is very, very tense. I'm sure that they're explaining to other Democratic senator, who actually want to raise the amount so that more spending takes place in their states -- they haven't explained to them while much of that has been taken out.

So my guess is a very tense meeting. My sense is that, unfortunately, something probably will occur. And when you think about the financial issues that we are going to be dealing with, with the institutions, the financial institutions, the housing market, I think we'd be so much better off looking at all of that together and understanding the tremendous amount of taxpayer money that's going to be expended as this economy stabilizes.

I think it's a big mistake. I think they'd be better suited stopping this. I want our country and our president to do well. But I think this is a very foolish move.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Corker, you know, a lot of people say, you know what, under the Bush administration, the former president, he got through the Congress at $700 billion bailout for Wall Street.

CORKER: Right.

BLITZER: I believe you voted for that, but correct me if I'm wrong.

And the question is this, why bail out Wall Street when you're not willing right now to, in effect, bail out Main Street?

CORKER: Well, in essence, I would like to stimulate Main Street. And I think the best way to do that is for private sector jobs to be created.

We're talking to governors, Wolf, on both sides of the aisle around the country. And they are quizzical about the fact that we are stove piping a flood of money into their states that has to be spent programmatically over the next 24 months.

First of all, it messes up all the processes they've put in place.

But secondly, it just doesn't create any private sector jobs.

So my heard goes out to the people who have lost their jobs. I did vote against the second level of TARP funding until I knew how we were going to truly solve the credit market, because that is of great effect to Main Street.

We need to get housing and the credit markets functioning. I've heard so many businesses across our country that are unable to get credit. They're having to lay off people. That's the job engine of our country, not sending programmatic money into government.

And let me say this, Wolf. I absolutely believe that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle know that, in many cases. And I think they feel very badly about this bill.

BLITZER: And we're waiting for the Democrats to emerge from their session behind closed doors. Once again, the Senate in recess until the top of the hour.

Senator, Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, has a question she'd like to ask you -- go ahead, Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Senator, what do you say to those economists who say that the economy needs a jolt and that this kind of spending will work very quickly, that it will work quicker than tax cuts would and that it's just what the economy needs right now?

CORKER: Well, look, I would agree that some targeted infrastructure spending that actually creates something of permanence would be very usual right now. I agree with that.

I cannot imagine how anyone sees pumping a bunch of money into education, which I firmly support -- but doing it for a two year period, pumping a lot of money into Medicaid for a two year period. The states have said that they need about $10 billion. This number has gone as high as $93 billion in this bill.

So if you see pumping that out programmatically, as this bill does, I don't see how that creates jobs.

So I would agree with some economists about the fact that a stimulus that creates things of permanence for our country would be a good thing. And we've offered amendments to focus on that, plus tax cuts, plus focusing on housing, which is what brought us into this in the first place. And if we don't stabilize and put a floor on housing, this is never going to end.

BLITZER: All right...

CORKER: And if we don't get the credit markets stable, small businesses cannot borrow money to hire people and create jobs.

BLITZER: Senator, Candy Crowley has a question for you, as well.

CORKER: OK. BLITZER: Go ahead, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator, it is probably pretty to say that this bill is going to look more like what President Obama wants than like what you would like to see and what most Republicans would like to see.

Let us assume that it goes out there and, in fact, does begin to turn the economy around.

Aren't you then on the wrong side of this politically?

Do you not then sort of doom this party to minority ship, if you will, for the next election and beyond?

CORKER: Well, I think that's a great question. And, Candy, I came here to major in substance, OK, not to major in sort of the politics of the issues. And on substance, I just think this is the wrong thing.

I hope the economy turns around. And, by the way, with or without a stimulus, at some point, the economy is going to turn around because we have cycles, OK.

But I truly -- this is not a political vote to me. I cannot possibly imagine how this type of spending within government is going to create jobs.

And so I hope the economy turns around. I hope it happens by the time the next election occurs. I do not see this at all as a political risk. I see this as something I'm voting my conscience. I've been in business all of my life. I was a commission of finance for a state. I know how this money gets expended in state government and here at the federal government. And I just do not believe this is a stimulus bill.

But I hope, Candy, I hope that huge jobs are created, because there are so many people in my state, so many people all across our country that need jobs...

BLITZER: All right...

CORKER: ...but they will not be created because of this stimulus package, I can assure you of that.

BLITZER: So at this -- at this point -- Senator, we're out of time, but at this point, you believe it's going to pass?

CORKER: I believe something is going to pass. This -- this is a fumble either way. I mean, if it passes, I think it's a mistake. If it doesn't pass, it's a really terrible way for him to start his presidency. And I think they think that a lot is riding on this.

And I want them to succeed for our country. I don't think this is the way to do it.

BLITZER: Senator Corker, thanks very much for coming in.

CORKER: Thank you.

Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

We're continuing to watch what's happening. We're waiting for those doors to open. Behind closed doors, the Democratic leadership meeting right now. They want to make sure that all 58 Democrats are on board, because they need every single one. And they also need a few Republicans in order to get this legislation passed.

Standing by. Our continuing coverage of the breaking news will continue right after this short break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: It's not only breaking news, it's an historic moment on the Senate -- in the Senate right now. They're in recess for a few more moments. But it looks like there's a tentative deal to get this $780 billion compromise economic stimulus package through the Senate. It will go back to the House for a joint House-Senate conference committee. And presumably, if it passes in some form, President Barack Obama will sign it into law. It would be a huge victory for him. He's been desperately anxious to get this done.

Dana Bash, our senior Congressional correspondent, is working her sources.

Explain to our viewers in the United States and around the world, Dana, right now, where this stands.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Where this stands, Wolf, is that Democrats are still meeting. It's been quite a long time -- well over an hour, I think, at this point -- that Democrats have been meeting. The leadership has been trying to explain and lobby for this tentative agreement that they have made.

And I think it's quite interesting -- and we'll know after it's done -- how telling it is how long this meeting is.

But we are waiting for them to come to out to see if they have, in fact, gotten all of their Democrats that they really, really need on board.

Now, we were told that we are going to hear from two lead negotiators in the middle -- the centrist senators, Nelson -- Senator Ben Nelson, the Democrat from Nebraska, and Susan Collins, the Republican from Maine. And we're still expecting to hear from them, hopefully in the next 10 to 15 minutes or so.

One thing I want to actually tell you, Wolf, that as we've been reporting this, I spoke with several leadership sources on the Republican side. These are sources who have been looking at this. And they say we know that you're reporting $780 billion. But they say it actually could end up being more than that.


Because there were two very political measures that have already passed through the days and days of debate -- a $15,000 tax credit for new homebuyers and also tax -- a tax deduction for people who buy new cars. And those are things that could add to this price tag if they are included, as well.

So I wanted to caution everybody that we are saying $780 billion. That is what so many sources have told us. But if, in fact, those two things are added, it could -- the price tag could climb -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So we're standing by. We're waiting to see what emerges from this closed door meeting with the Democrats. At the top of the hour, we expect the Senate to reconvene, go back in session. And then we'll hear from these senators, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Olympia -- and Susan Collins of Maine, a Democrat and a Republican, to see what the latest is on this tentative deal.

All right, we're going to get right back to the breaking news, but there's some other important news unfolding even as we speak, including news involving the gold medal champion, Michael Phelps, going public, saying he's learned a lesson.

Brian Todd is working this story for us.

What's happening on the Michael Phelps front -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for the first time since he was suspended by the U.S. Swimming Federation for three months, Michael Phelps has spoken out about that particular reprimand. Phelps was punished, as many of you know, after a tabloid photo was published, allegedly showing him inhaling from a marijuana pipe.

Phelps calls that suspension "fair" and in an interview with Baltimore TV station WMAR, he talked about all the fallout.


MICHAEL PHELPS, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: This is a time we need support. And you've got to be able to have the support, you know, from -- from all of my spon -- you know, a majority of my sponsors, you know, probably 90 percent of the sponsors. It means a lot. And it's something I'm -- I'm very thankful for.

QUESTION: Do you think the suspension is warranted -- three months for a picture?

PHELPS: It's not my decision, it's theirs. You know, I have nothing to say. And I have -- what they want to do is, that's their choice. I, you know, obviously know -- have no decision on what I should or shouldn't do.

No, that's something that USA Swimming came up with and, you know, it's fair. You know, I mean, obviously for mistakes, you should get punished and they -- they went and did that.

QUESTION: Will this impact your training for the Worlds?

PHELPS: I'm still going to be training no matter what, so it's not like -- I mean, that's -- that's the only good thing about it is I won't be competing, but I'll be training.


TODD: Now, the U.S. Swimming Federation says it's going to suspend financing Michael Phelps for this three months while he is suspended from competing. But that may just be the beginning of his financial fallout.

Earlier this week -- yesterday, in fact -- the Kellogg Company, one of many sponsors, said that it is not renewing his contract at the end of this month, when it was to expire -- Wolf, he could lose a lot of endorsement money. He makes hundreds of millions of dollars from endorsements. This could be just the beginning of that -- of that trouble for Michael Phelps.

He is still not committed yet to swimming in the 2012 Olympics in London.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks for updating you on that.

And we're still waiting for the senators to emerge on the breaking news.

We'll go back to Capitol Hill in a moment. Once we do -- we just saw Senator Rockefeller leave that room.

All right, stand by for that.

Meanwhile, there's another story that's got some interesting developments unfolding, even as we speak, involving the mother of those octuplets in California.

Mary Snow is working this story for us.

What's the latest on that front?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Medical Board of California says it's now investigating the doctor of the woman who gave birth to octuplets last week. The board says it wants to know why the doctor would provide in vitro fertilization to a woman who already has six children.

Plus, the mother of octuplets is now talking and she says she always dreamed of having a huge family.

Here's what she told NBC's "Today" show.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So your fertility specialists knew that you already had six children?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many embryos were you implanted with?

SULEMAN: The same as with the others, six.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did he explain to you the risks of a multiple birth?

Had he...

SULEMAN: Oh, with all of them. Absolutely, with all of them (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You didn't want just one or two embryos?

SULEMAN: Of course not. I wanted them all transferred. Those are my -- those are my children. And that's what was available and I used them.


SNOW: The woman was implanted with six embryos, but two resulted in twins, making eight.

This story is getting so much attention -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, as it should.

All right. Thanks very much for that, Mary Snow.

Once again, we're standing by for the breaking news up on Capitol Hill right now, specifically, in the U.S. Senate. Word of a compromise on an economic stimulus package not long after President Obama turned up the heat.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's go right back to our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She's working her sources.

They need 60 votes. They need all those Democrats on board -- Dana, what are you hearing?

BASH: Well, this comes from our Ted Baird, our Congressional producer, who is working the halls and working his sources, as well. And he just spoke with Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who told him that the Democrats are now planning to hold the vote tonight. And they're actually going to call Ted Kennedy back in order to make sure that they have the votes. Ted Kennedy has not been here in the Senate for the past several weeks, since he collapsed on Inauguration Day. In fact, he has been in Florida. But he will be here, according to Max Baucus, in order to hold the vote.

Again, and the headline here also is that they do plan to hold a vote tonight because they feel that they have -- they have their ducks in a row, shall we say, inside the Democratic Caucus and perhaps even among Republicans -- at least enough to get that magic 60 votes.

BLITZER: All right, Dana.

Stand by.

Paul Begala, our Democratic strategist, has been in touch with some Democrats, as well.

What are you hearing -- Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm working my fingers to the bone on the BlackBerry, Wolf. And I've a source who says -- and these are the words the source used -- "done deal" -- that Democrats believe they have a deal and that it will pass and it will pass tonight.

I had another source who said that they were surprised in the caucus room, when the Democratic leadership tried to sell the deal to the Democrats. We were talking earlier that Democrats might be upset about it.

My source told me that, in fact, they burst into applause. The Democrats are happy with this and they feel like they've got a good deal.

Keep in mind, one of them told me this is halftime. So the process, even if they win tonight, the Democrats and the president, there are still two more big leaps ahead. That is, it's got to go to conference committee -- well, three. It's got to go to conference committee then pass the House again and the Senate again.

So they view this as -- as halftime. But they do -- they feel like they have a deal. And, as I say, the word they used with me was "done deal."

BLITZER: And so are you hearing, Paul, that every single Democrat -- all 58 of them -- are on board?

BEGALA: I have to say, I didn't ask that specifically, Wolf. I'm not as good a journalist as you. But they told me they had a deal and they have the votes to pass it. I presume that, yes. And particularly our own reporting earlier was saying that Ben Nelson was a figure -- the senator from Nebraska, a Democrat -- was a figure of special attention.

And I'm told that, yes, they feel like they've got the votes to pass it. I think that does mean they have all the Democrats and a couple of Republicans to push them over that number of 60. BLITZER: All right. Stand by.

John King, our chief national correspondent, also is working his sources -- John, what are you hearing?

KING: Wolf, I got an e-mail from a senior White House official just a few minutes ago asking if -- what would be the premise, the platform for negotiating afterward?

Would it be the Senate big deal?

Would it be the House deal?

Or would you try to split the difference?

And the e-mail back is: "Let's get this through the Senate first. But the Senate would become the operative bill."

The Senate would become the operative bill.

So that means the White House would be trying to convince the House Democrats, if they get this out of the Senate, to come along to the figure -- the final figure that we get out of the Senate.

Now to Paul's point, tradition is the House passes a bill, the Senate passes a bill. Then you have a House-Senate conference committee. And without a doubt, that will be the format that takes place if -- and it's still a big if -- this bill gets through the Senate tonight.

But this source also said look for something unconventional with White House involvement. Meaning you will have an official conference committee, most likely. But it appears -- and two House Democratic chairmen told me this earlier in the week, as well. They believe that once you have a House and a Senate bill, the White House will try to broker this deal outside of the traditional go lock yourself in a room in the Capitol with the House and the Senate members.

So look for more direct White House involvement that might be typical in a conference committee negotiation, with the goal, again, Wolf of being the president wants this legislation by next Friday -- by the end of next week -- on his desk, because of the scheduled Congressional recess and because he wants the mayors and the governors to know just when that money is coming, because, as the mayors and governors will tell you, the faster they get the money or the faster they have the commitment of the money, the faster they can get shovels in the dirt for those infrastructure projects.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, John -- Donna Brazile, what do you make of the fact that -- Dana just reported it -- that Ted Kennedy is going to be actually brought in to vote tonight on this crucial piece of legislation?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, this is an urgent crisis. And there's perhaps no better leader in our country than Ted Kennedy, who understands why this bill is important, especially with the funding for education and health care.

Ted Kennedy will be a very forceful voice for change. And I'm sure that once he takes to the floor, every Democrat -- and perhaps some Republicans -- will stand with him.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys.

We're going to continue to watch what's happening in the Senate. It looks like there's a deal. President Barack Obama will get, on this day, what he wants. But we don't know that for sure.

In the meantime, we want to quickly check in with Jack once again for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is how would your life change if you were forced to live on $500,000 a year, as some executives at corporations that received this bailout money may soon be forced to do?

Tony in Atlanta: "I'd live like a king. I could afford to stop living paycheck to paycheck, decent day care, college funds, a retirement plan, actually tithe 10 percent of my income and a yearly vacation that doesn't include piling everybody into the car and driving hundreds of miles to visit a relative. I could afford a good steak every now and then and a lot more laughter."

Adam in Philadelphia: "For somebody like me, who earns a good middle class income, that would be like winning the lottery. Unless, of course, I suddenly decided I needed new luxury cars, a much bigger house, and an $83,000 rug to decorate my office. These Wall Street crooks have convinced themselves that they need all these fancy things. So to them, 500 grand just doesn't seem like a lot of money. Maybe I'll just stay right where I am, after all. Thanks anyway."

Venia in Pennsylvania: "I'd be able to pay off my bills and house and have money to live on and not have to buy so much color to dye out the gray hair."

Ricky in Roanoke: "I'd live like a Republican -- with eight houses."

J.W. in Atlanta: "I'd want to have a babe on my arm, a fancy ride in my two car garage and steak on the table in front of my extra big screen TV. But with federal taxes, state taxes, county taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, (INAUDIBLE) taxes, user fees, corporate taxes and luxury taxes, I'd end up with enough for a whiney old lady, an old pickup truck and a burger with onions in front of my TV with no cable."

Pat says: "If I had to live on $500,000 a year, that's like telling a fat kid to eat his dessert first."

And Mike in Syracuse: "It would be great. I'd be making enough so I'd be able to stop paying my taxes, just like Geithner and Daschle and the rest of them." If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack.

See you back here on Monday.

Jack Cafferty with The Cafferty File.

Gloria Borger, it's a key moment in the U.S. Senate right now. And the Democrats look like they're in a position to eke out a victory.

BORGER: Yes, they do. And if it is a victory, it will be a big victory for the new president. And I think -- you know, it's striking to me, Wolf, looking at all of this and hearing Dana Bash's reporting about Barack Obama being on the telephone with senators.

It occurs to me we haven't watched an ex-senator work the Senate in a very, very long time. And so I would expect that you're going to see this new president handle Congress a little bit differently from -- from his predecessor. He seems to be pretty comfortable up there. He's been visiting them. And I think he's going to roll up his sleeves and get involved in the final bill.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to stay on top of this story throughout the night here on CNN.

I want to thank all of our viewers for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Please be sure to join us again tomorrow night -- that's Saturday night, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. THE SITUATION ROOM airs tomorrow night, 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

Let's go to "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."

Lisa Sylvester is sitting in for Lou -- Lisa.