WASHINGTON – Senior citizens are knocking on senators’ doors. Lobbyists for the homebuilding and energy industries are burning up their telephone lines.
Interest groups ranging from vulnerable people who tug at lawmakers’ heartstrings to powerful contributors to their political campaigns have joined the push for $40 billion in add-ons to a House-passed economic stimulus bill.
The groups are leaning on wavering Republicans to support a $200 billion-plus economic aid package in the Senate, setting the stage for a politically vexing vote Thursday on the Democratic-written plan.
The economic stimulus bill that shot through the House in a burst of bipartisan agreement last week remained stalled in the Senate on Tuesday. Behind the scenes, the diverse coalition of lobbyists and grass-roots organizers seemed in perpetual motion.
Senior citizens were asking senators to support extending $500-$1,000 rebates to 20 million elderly people and 250,000 disabled veterans left out of the House plan.
Lobbyists for the homebuilding and energy industries were calling and e-mailing, eager to take advantage of lucrative tax breaks the measure provides for their sectors.
President Bush has warned the Senate not to turn the $161 billion House-passed aid plan into a Christmas tree loaded with special-interest items that would do little to stimulate the flagging economy. Up until Tuesday, Senate Republicans were joining Bush in demanding that the plan be kept clean in the interest of speeding its $600-$1,200 rebates to more than 100 million Americans.
In a mark of the political power of the seniors’ lobby, though, Senate Republicans said Tuesday that they, too, would push to add rebates for the elderly and for disabled veterans to the House package.
Democrats want to tack on much more, including a $14.5 billion unemployment extension, $1 billion in heating assistance for the poor, and a tax break for businesses suffering losses that would cost $23 billion over the next two years. Their plan also contains more than $5 billion over the next 10 years in energy tax breaks.
A vote on that package could occur this evening, and Democrats were toiling to collect the 60 votes they would need to advance it over GOP objections. They were counting on pressure from the outside groups to persuade wavering Republicans to back the plan.