Influential Senate Dem Questions Party Support for Stimulus Bill

An influential Senate Democrat said Friday that it's unclear whether President Obama's $819 economic stimulus bill will win enough support to pass in the Senate.

"I don't even know how many Democrats will vote for it, as it stands today," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., told FOX News.

Nelson, a moderate Democrat, is famous for gathering lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in a so-called "Gang of 14" to avert a shutdown of the Senate over judicial nominations. He is seeking a similar bipartisan effort to improve the stimulus bill.

Lawmakers are unhappy that the bill, passed by the House on Wednesday, contains billions of dollars for programs that arguably won't spark much job growth.

"What I'm hoping to do is bring together a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats and offer changes that will attract others and improve the bill," he told FOX News. "People want this to succeed."

Asked how many Republicans he can get to vote for the bill, Nelson said he didn't even know how many Democrats would vote for it.

Sens. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. and Susan Collins, R-ME, met in Nelson's office Friday morning to see if more can be done to create jobs in the stimulus bill -- such as a major boost in funding for infrastructure projects, which appeal to many of his colleagues.

"We need to focus this on getting people back to work quickly," Nelson said.

The "Gang of 14" compromise in 2006 displeased many conservatives. Republicans controlled both houses of Congress at the time, and those involved in the compromise group agreed to take some of the party's power options off the table in exchange for Democratic promises not to filibuster Bush's judicial nominees except under "extreme circumstances."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate who was a member of the original "Gang" and a close friend of Nelson's from their time on the Senate Armed Services Committee, got an invite, as has Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Nelson's energy compromise group colleague. On the Democratic side, Nelson has reached out to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a strong ally of President Obama, as well as Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and freshman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

"Warner's a former governor, so he gets it," said Nelson, himself a popular former governor, in Nebraska.

One item that likely will be discussed is an amendment that would add billions of dollars to infrastructure projects. Nelson is crafting that measure with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, both on the Appropriations Committee.

And Nelson doesn't want to stop there. He wants to pluck out what he says are extraneous projects in the stimulus bill to pay for the amendment. Providing hundreds of millions of dollars for prevention of smoking and sexually-transmitted disease -- though they may be worthy causes -- does not create jobs. Nelson even is willing to remove popular Pell Grant increases, saving them for annual spending bills later in the year.

"We need to sit down and see who owns these projects," Nelson said, and see if they can be removed from the bill. "We need to keep (the bill's cost in check) and see if we cant change around what's underneath that to create more jobs."