WASHINGTON – An economic aid plan to send rebates of $600-$1,200 to most taxpayers passed a key test Monday in the Senate, where Democrats are pushing to add more than $40 billion in help for seniors, disabled veterans and the unemployed.
Democrats were ratcheting up pressure on Republicans to support the add-ons, part of a proposal to pump $204 billion into the economy over the next two years. The House passed its $161 billion economic stimulus package last week with overwhelming backing from both parties.
The Senate voted 80-4 Monday evening to advance that package, setting the stage for a test-vote as early as Wednesday on Democrats’ much larger proposal.
The Senate measure would send $500-$1,000 rebates to a wider group of people than the House measure covers, add $14.5 billion in jobless benefits and include $5.6 billion in renewable energy tax breaks over the next 10 years. The rebates would extend to 20 million senior citizens and 250,000 disabled veterans left out of the House bill because they don’t earn enough to qualify.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week that the Senate plan didn’t have enough support to advance, but on Monday he said a new proposal that includes $1 billion in heating aid for the poor and a housing rescue package included in the House bill could pass and be enacted quickly.
“All Americans should know that their rebate checks will not be delayed a single minute as a result of our debate,” Reid said.
Lobbyists for the elderly, labor unions and homebuilders – among other politically potent groups – were blanketing Capitol Hill in search of votes for the Senate plan.
“There’s been a lot of politicking around here about the economic stimulus package,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who wrote the Senate measure, approved last week by the Finance Committee. “Everyone’s counting votes.”
Baucus, the Finance chairman, predicted his plan would have the 60 votes necessary to advance over objections by top Republicans, who have joined President Bush and House leaders in calling for the Senate to quickly endorse the narrower House-passed plan so it can be enacted quickly.
Jim Nussle, Bush’s budget director, said that Bush believes the House bill is the right size, although he refused to say whether the president would veto a larger stimulus bill.
“There is concern about the Senate adding spending proposals to a package that thus far has been bipartisan, has been something that could be done quickly, that would have good, strong stimulative effect on the economy short term, and that shouldn’t be loaded up with a lot of spending proposals at this time,” Nussle told reporters as he detailed Bush’s 2009 budget.
“Nobody in this city wants to be responsible for holding this thing up,” Baucus said, appearing at a news conference in the Capitol with senior citizens and representatives for the AFL-CIO and disabled veterans.
Democrats, seeking support, were targeting GOP senators facing re-election battles, including Sens. Norm Coleman, of Minnesota, Elizabeth Dole, of North Carolina, Ted Stevens, of Alaska, and John Sununu, of New Hampshire. They also expected backing from Maine Republicans Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe as well as Sen. Gordon H. Smith, R-Ore.