Vote expected soon on $150 billion economic package

Posted Feb. 15, 2012, at 8:43 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders moved ahead Wednesday with plans to bring a $150 billion economic package to a vote, possibly by Friday, the last act in a five-month battle over President Barack Obama’s proposed jobs plan.

Negotiators worked behind closed doors to put the final touches on the proposal, which would include a 10-month extension of a payroll tax holiday that lets the average worker keep an extra $1, 000 a year. The deal also would extend unemployment benefits through the end of the year. Lawmakers expressed optimism that they would settle disputes over how to pay for the package.

“If the agreement comes together like I expect it will, the House should vote this week,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Wednesday.

The emerging plan is about one-third the size of the one Obama proposed. It would combine the payroll tax holiday and extended unemployment benefits, key pieces of Obama’s nearly $450 billion proposal in September. It includes a temporary fix for Medicare’s payment plan, which, left unchecked, would lead to a 27 percent drop in fees paid to doctors who treat elderly patients.

The final talks, led by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., focused on the need to find about $50 billion in spending cuts and new revenue to offset the $50 billion cost of the unemployment extension and the Medicare change.

Key to paying for the deal is a requirement that federal workers contribute an additional $15 billion to their pension plans over the next decade. An additional $5 billion would be carved out of a fund created under Obama’s health-care law to help primary-care physicians prevent illness, a fund that the president singled out for a similar cut in the budget for fiscal 2013 that he announc ed Monday.

One of the final disputes, according to aides in both parties, involved a plan to raise at least $15 billion in revenue from selling off public spectrum to telecommunication companies for better mobile communication. Lawmakers in both parties have long agreed that such a sale would have dual benefits: It would raise money and also help the telecommunication industry use better frequency for its quickly advancing technologies.

But there is also a push in the spectrum proposal to include dedicated frequency lines for emergency first responders, so that local and federal officials could better communicate during disasters. That has been a goal ever since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when local officials in New York and Washington struggled to stay in contact with their federal counterparts.

On Wednesday, negotiators appeared to agree on a plan that would auction off $22 billion worth of the spectrum to the industry, then siphon $7 billion of that into a fund for federal maintenance of the frequency dedicated to first responders, senior Democratic aides said Wednesday.

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