The pension provision represented a concession to key Maryland Democrats who, even after prodding from President Obama, did not grant their support until current federal workers were shielded from the new pension plan, aides in both parties said.
A vote could come as early as Friday, the last act in a five-month battle over Obama’s proposed jobs plan.
“This is good for the country, it’s very good for the country. We have an agreement,” Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said at a hastily arranged post-midnight press conference in a Capitol hallway. Baucus was joined by Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.), the lead GOP negotiator.
Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, had prematurely declared a “deal” was at hand at 11 p.m. Wednesday. He then spent 90 minutes huddled inside Camp’s office.
Camp assured reporters later that the final talks were about “technical things” in the bill’s legislative language and that more than enough senators and House members had agreed to the substantive issues to ensure the bill would be published later Thursday.
“We have an agreement and we’re moving forward,” Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said.
The bill — which some Obama aides say is likely to be the last significant legislation passed before the November elections — includes 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 2012. But it reduces the tenure on unemployment by the end of the year to 63 weeks in states moderately impacted by the recession and 73 weeks for those with the highest jobless rates.
The plan is about one-third the size of the original jobs legislation Obama proposed in September. It includes a temporary fix for Medicare’s payment plan, intended to prevent a 27 percent drop in fees paid to doctors who treat elderly patients.
The final talks were hung up 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.
The Senate side of the conference committee, with four Democrats and three Republicans, found itself stalled late Wednesday. Initial plans called for drawing $15 billion in savings by requiring all federal workers to make increased contributions to their pension plans, prompting an objection from Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.). The three Senate Republicans demanded an exemption from portions of the 2010 health-care law for physician-owned hospitals, a move Democrats opposed.
This left the conference committee one senator shy of the number needed to sign off on a final agreement.