economy: Senators Push to Expand Stimulus


Richard Moore

Senators Push to Expand Stimulus
Both Parties Seek Additions to Plan
By Jonathan Weisman and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 26, 2008; A01

Shrugging off a personal plea from President Bush, senators from both parties 
said yesterday that they will push for significant additions to the $150 billion
stimulus package hammered out Thursday by House leaders and the administration.

Bush, appearing at a retreat for House Republicans in West Virginia, warned 
Congress not to load the deal with spending projects or delay sending it to his 
desk for a signature. Although it may not be everything Republicans want, he 
said, the package of payments to workers and incentives for business investment 
puts money in the hands of everyday Americans and does not raise taxes.

"Congress should move it quickly," Bush told the lawmakers. "I understand the 
desire to add provisions from both the right and the left. I strongly believe it
would be a mistake to delay or derail this bill."

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), one of the deal's chief 
negotiators, put a partisan slant on that warning, cautioning: "It would be 
irresponsible for Senate Democrats to load this bill up with pork and other 
spending. Families and small businesses need help now, and this agreement 
shouldn't be derailed because of partisan politics."

But there is nothing partisan about the opposition developing ahead of next 
week's meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, which will draft its own 
economic stimulus bill. Republicans and Democrats alike said the administration 
does not have the right to force a plan on senators who had no say on its 

"I was very pleased with the progress the House made in working out the 
agreement, but the Senate is a separate entity, and the White House needs to 
engage in negotiations with the Senate, as well," said Sen. Susan Collins 

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial 
Committee, told Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and other administration
officials that he will try to add a tax break for corporations that quickly 
reinvest overseas profits in the United States. None of the officials offered 

"They did not do that, and I don't think they're in any position to do that," 
Ensign said.

The stimulus package, crafted by Paulson, Boehner and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.), would send checks to 117 million families this spring in an effort 
to promote consumer spending and reverse the slowdown in the economy. Lower- and
middle-class workers would receive as much as $600 for individuals or $1,200 for
married couples, plus $300 per child. The package also includes one-time tax 
incentives for businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.

Full payments would go only to individuals who earn less than $75,000 in 
adjusted gross income and couples who make less than $150,000. If Congress 
passes the package by mid-February, as projected, the first checks would not go 
out until May.

White House officials are wary that the Senate might unravel the deal by 
upsetting the careful balance achieved by Pelosi and Boehner. But in his talk to
House Republicans at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Bush
did not reject specific ideas or issue a veto threat.

His audience appeared lukewarm about the stimulus plan. Conservatives have 
complained that it redistributes wealth for political reasons and would be 
ineffective at jump-starting the economy. When Bush praised Pelosi and Boehner 
for their leadership in building it, the Republicans did not react until a White
House aide at the back of the room started the applause.

The only enthusiastic response by the legislators came when Bush promised to 
push Congress later to make his first-term tax cuts permanent, a goal he has 
agreed not to link to the stimulus package to win bipartisan agreement on the 

The president did not face open revolt over the stimulus, as some officials had 
expected. During a closed-door question-and-answer session after his speech, no 
lawmaker asked about the package, according to people in the room.

In Washington, however, senators were busy drawing up lists of potentially 
costly additions to the package. Collins said a bipartisan coalition of 
Northeastern and Midwestern senators will push to secure as much as $800 million
in heating assistance for the poor, a provision that House Democratic leaders 
dropped in favor of securing payments for about 35 million families who earn too
little to pay income tax.

Collins said she will push to restore about $12.5 billion in unemployment 
benefits and $5 billion in food-stamp extensions that House negotiators also 
eliminated, a call echoed by her fellow Maine Republican, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe,
who vowed to add funds next week in the Finance Committee. Snowe will be joined 
by another Republican on the committee, Sen. Gordon Smith (Ore.).

"The number of long-term unemployed in this country is dramatically higher than 
during the last recession, and I hope that Congress will pass a stimulus package
that responds to this pressing need for so many Americans," Snowe said.

In a conference call with Finance Committee members yesterday morning, Chairman 
Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he hopes to provide checks to low-income retirees, who
are left out of the House plan because they cannot show $3,000 in earned income.

Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Robert P. 
Casey Jr. (Pa.) called yesterday for hundreds of millions of dollars for 
mortgage counselors, while Republican Govs. Tim Pawlenty (Minn.), Arnold 
Schwarzenegger (Calif.) and Charlie Crist (Fla.) pushed for a temporary boost in
the share of Medicaid financing assumed by the federal government.

"It was always expected that the tax cut refund would be the centerpiece [of a 
stimulus plan]. Business tax cuts would be on one side, some stimulus spending 
would be on the other side, and we hope to round it out," Schumer said. "The 
good news about this is, no one has thrown down the gauntlet or drawn a line in 
the sand."

Pelosi, usually a fierce advocate of social welfare programs such as food 
stamps, pleaded with critics in a speech to the National Press Club to "think 
anew and in a bigger way."

"If you want to talk about food stamps in this package, what was being bandied 
about was a 10 percent increase in food stamps," which translates to an increase
of 10 cents per meal, she said. "I thought it was far more important to put a 
check for $1,000 into the hands of the mom of that family."

Some Republicans are clearly worried that constituents could view any concerted 
push for changes as politicians standing in the way of rebate checks. When Sen. 
Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said on Thursday that his call for the addition of 
infrastructure funding would have bipartisan support, he cited Sen. John Thune 
(R-S.D.) as an ally.

But Kyle Downey, Thune's spokesman, said yesterday that although the 
conservative senator believes in principle that the government should be 
increasing infrastructure spending, "everyone recognizes that unless we get this
done quickly, it's a useless exercise. John Thune does not want to be the one 
who stands in the way."

Other senators insisted that Bush would not veto a stimulus plan with the kinds 
of changes they are discussing. Ensign, voicing the misgivings of many 
conservatives, said the deal is now too heavy on politically popular measures 
and does far too little to address the underlying issues that confront the 
economy, especially a lack of capital to invest in the private sector.

By granting a one-time "tax holiday" for overseas business revenue, the Nevada 
Republican said, Congress could produce a surge of investment from U.S. 
corporations waiting to repatriate offshore profits. He conceded that Treasury 
officials "are not crazy about" the idea, which was tried in 2004, but he said 
its addition would not slow the process.

"Things should be in the stimulus package that actually stimulate the economy," 
Ensign said. "The bottom line is not to do some political exercise here to make 
us feel good. We need to help the economy."

Baker reported from White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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