House, Senate agree on stimulus bill; IT spending plans unclear

Details about changes made in conference were slow to emerge

Negotiators from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have reached agreement on a $789 billion spending bill intended to improve the U.S. economy.

Several lawmakers announced the agreement Wednesday afternoon, just a day after the Senate had passed its $838 billion version of the stimulus package. The House passed a $819 billion stimulus package in late January.

Lawmakers didn't say immediately what had been cut from both versions of the bill to trim the bill down to $789 billion.

While nearly all congressional Republicans opposed the bill, it was time to act to keep the country from going into a deeper recession, said Sen. Olympia Snowe, from Maine, one of only three Republican lawmakers who voted for the package. "The time has come to bring everyone together" for the good of the U.S. economy, she said during a televised news conference.

Lawmakers said it was important for them to come to a compromise quickly. "Everybody gave up something in the negotiations to advance something bigger for our country and our people," said Se. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, during the news conference.

The compromise package now goes back to the House and Senate for approval. If passed, the package would then be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Both versions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included several tech-related provisions. It was unclear late Wednesday if these provisions survived the final agreement.

The Senate bill included $4.5 billion to improve the nation's electricity grid so that customers can measure their electricity use through Web sites and, in some cases, sell back extra energy. Supporters of a smart energy grid say that the information made available can help customers cut their energy costs.

The House version of the bill included $11 billion for a smart grid.

The Senate bill also included $3 billion to push forward adoption of health IT, including electronic health records. The House version of the bill included $20 billion for health IT.

The Senate version of the bill included $7.1 billion aimed at rolling out broadband to rural and other underserved areas, compared to $6 billion in the House version. Most of the money in the Senate package would go to grants for broadband providers; the House bill included a mix of grants and tax credits.

The packages also included money for technology upgrades at several U.S. agencies and at U.S. schools. Both bills also included new money for research at several agencies, including the National Science Foundation.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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