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Senate falls short in effort to widen stimulus benefits

WASHINGTON – Unwilling to compromise with Republicans on a two-year, $204 billion economic stimulus package, Senate Democrats failed Wednesday night in their attempt to add aid to millions of senior citizens, disabled veterans and out-of-work Americans.

Democrats now may have to settle for only some of the spending if they want to augment a smaller stimulus package that easily cleared the House last month. That measure is a combination of tax rebates for the middle-class and incentives for business investment.

“I think the American people would have welcomed a bipartisan effort,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who voted for the package but bemoaned the collapse of cross-party cooperation on the stimulus package.

The Senate Democrat proposal stalled on a procedural vote, falling just short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster.

Democrat presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois voted for the package.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised to send some kind of stimulus legislation to the president by the end of next week.

His spokesman said late Wednesday that Reid is considering trying another vote on the measure, perhaps as soon as today. “Sen. Reid is going to give Republicans a chance to reconsider their vote,” Jim Manley said.

Unless he can find a GOP senator to switch, however, Reid may be stuck with something more limited. He could offer a vote on a proposal backed by Senate Republicans to send rebate checks to more than 20 million senior citizens living on Social Security and 250,000 disabled veterans, both of whom are not covered in the House stimulus package.

Wednesday’s vote marked the possible demise of a nearly two-week effort by Senate Democrats to greatly expand on the compromise speedily worked out last month by the White House and the leaders of both parties in the House.

The House package – which would inject an estimated $161 billion into the economy over the next two years and cost the Treasury $117 billion over the next decade – won broad bipartisan support, passing 385-35.