The deal was to be made official at a joint House-Senate conference committee meeting at 3 p.m. ET. Several members of the committee showed up. The cameras were rolling. Staff filled the room. So did reporters.
Then the meeting was been postponed.
The problem: Liberals in the House are objecting to the amount of money in the bill for school construction -- apparently significantly less than either the $79 billion approved by the House or the $39 billion approved by the Senate.
Another problem: Some House Democrats say the bill gives states too much discretion on how to use some of the money intended for education.
Some Senate Democrats are unhappy, too. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said there is just not enough money in the bill for school construction.
“Every school in America will get $10,000 bucks if they're lucky,” Harkin said, guessing that might be enough to buy two energy-efficient windows.
“And what's that going to do for them?” he asked. “We're trying to add new heating facilities. We're trying to add renovations. And doing it by formula doesn't do it.”
Harkin said he'd ultimately vote for the deal, but he doesn't like the concessions made to get the support of the moderate Republicans.
“I'm just dismayed at the process,” Harkin said. “I think that we, on our side, caved in too much in order to appease a few people. I just think we should have held strong on some of these things and seen if we could have passed it. If not, then you come back and try to fix it.”
All signs suggest that this will be worked out. But right now: impasse.
UPDATE: To quell the last-minute rebellion by House Democratic leaders, who were unhappy with the scaled-down bill, senators increased the funds allocated to states for school construction. In terms of the overall deal, the approximate top-line numbers include about 282 billion in tax cuts, which is lower than the $376 billion passed by the Senate, but more than $264 billion passed by House and roughly $507 billion in spending, for a total cost of $789 billion. These numbers are likely to change as they go through the Congressional Budget Office.