Senate wants to give away more than House


Richard Moore

Showdown Nears on Stimulus Bill
Senate Panel's Version More Generous Than Bush-House Plan
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008; A03

With bipartisan support, the Senate Finance Committee yesterday approved a $157 
billion economic stimulus plan that rivals the measure fashioned by President 
Bush and House leaders, setting up a Senate showdown today that could determine 
who will receive rebates from the federal government and how quickly the checks 
will arrive.

The Bush administration and House leaders had hoped the Senate would simply 
accept the stimulus plan approved by the House on Tuesday, ensuring final 
passage this week and the mailing of the first checks by May. Senate Minority 
Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will try today to block the Senate from adopting 
the Finance Committee plan and force the passage of the House bill instead.

That effort received a blow yesterday when Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the 
influential ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, threw his weight behind
the Senate alternative. Finance Committee Republicans Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) 
and Gordon Smith (Ore.) also backed the bill.

"Concern with timing must be weighed against the question of the quality of the 
House bill," he said, singling out that plan's failure to include as many as 20 
million retirees in the tax payment plan.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is counting on Democrats 
to stay unified behind their leadership, and said that if enough Republicans 
join Grassley, a threatened filibuster by McConnell would be broken and the 
House and Senate would be forced into negotiations on a final stimulus bill.

But with only three Republicans on the Finance Committee voting for the package,
and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) absent, 
Baucus's ability to round up 60 votes to thwart a filibuster is far from 

Senators added provisions to the Finance Committee bill to make a "no" vote on 
the Senate version very difficult, offering federal stimulus checks to 20 
million low-income seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans who would be ineligible
under the compromise worked out by Bush and House leaders. Senators also 
tightened wording in the House bill to make it more difficult for illegal 
immigrants to claim a check.

After the Finance Committee vote, AARP launched a lobbying push to win passage 
of the Senate version. Advocates of the Senate bill said House-Senate talks 
should take a few days.

The Senate Finance Committee bill would send checks to virtually every American.
Individuals would receive $500 -- for couples, it would be $1,000 -- plus $300 
per child. Workers who can show $3,000 in earned income last year -- or seniors 
who had $3,000 in Social Security benefits -- would also qualify, even if they 
earned too little to pay income taxes.

After a revolt among Senate Democrats, Baucus added income caps on eligibility 
that he had initially rejected, but they are considerably more generous than the
ones imposed by the House. Rather than capping eligibility for the full check at
$75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples, the new bill phases out 
eligibility at $150,000 for individuals and $300,000 for couples. The committee 
also said no member of Congress would qualify.

The Senate bill extends unemployment benefits by 13 weeks, includes tax 
incentives for business investment similar to the House's and allows businesses 
more generous tax write-offs for their losses.

It adds $5.5 billion worth of tax-credit extensions for wind, solar and other 
alternative energy sources, as well as incentives for homeowners to make their 
homes more energy efficient. The committee also accepted an amendment to allow 
states to offer tax-free mortgage bonds for the ailing housing market.

All of those provisions were left out of the House bill.

Senators held back on the impulse to load up the package with pet provisions. 
Grassley and Baucus teamed up to vote down amendments from both parties, and 
some senators decided against offering changes they had promised.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had held a news conference to promise a 
push for $500 million in mortgage counseling, backed off yesterday, declaring: 
"We have to thread the needle here. We want to improve the bill, but we don't 
want to take it so far from the House bill that we slow it down."

But the inclusion of tax breaks for oil and gas exploration, appliance makers 
and construction firms building housing for a glutted market could open the 
Senate to ridicule, warned Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

"What we've done today is to add a lot of provisions that are hard to defend as 
stimulative," he said.

The Senate will begin considering the House plan today. It promises $600 checks 
for middle-income individuals, $1,200 for couples, and $300 for workers too poor
to owe income tax. Baucus will then be allowed to offer the Finance Committee 
bill as a substitute, and will probably need 60 votes to succeed. The showdown 
is likely to be close, with heavy pressure from McConnell and the White House 
weighing on Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he hopes for a final vote on 
one of the two stimulus bills tonight.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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