WASHINGTON – Politics and some tough lobbying by senior citizens combined to derail a planned vote Thursday in the Senate on a stimulus plan to rescue the economy from recession, delaying passage of legislation until next week.
Even as Senate leaders announced their delay in voting, phone lines to many Senate offices were jammed and a large volume of e-mail slowed congressional Web sites.
“A chord has been struck,” said David Certner, federal affairs director for the AARP. The 39 million-member lobby for American seniors added its weight to a growing number of complaints from seniors and disabled veterans.
The AARP says the $150 billion stimulus bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this week and supported by President Bush leaves out 20 million older Americans who depend largely on their Social Security checks to get by.
“These older Americans spend 92 percent of their income – a greater proportionate share of income than all other adults. This spending pattern strongly suggests that rebates for these individuals will be spent entirely and quickly, helping to provide an immediate boost to the economy,” Bill Novelli, the AARP’s chief executive officer, wrote in a letter Thursday to all senators.
The House bill provides tax rebates of up to $600 for any person with earned income above $3,000. The Senate Finance Committee, with support from the AARP, modified that late Wednesday in its own $157 billion stimulus package. The Senate package reduces the individual rebate to $500 in order to include additional rebates to any senior or disabled person who’s receiving more than $3,000 a year in benefits from the Social Security Administration.
Seniors and the disabled who don’t pay income taxes would have to apply to receive tax rebates, creating the need for an outreach and education effort. The House bill, on the other hand, provides automatic rebates for those who pay payroll and/or income taxes.
“Complexity is our enemy, and I am concerned that the bill that has come out of the Senate Finance Committee is already too complex,” Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Thursday.