WASHINGTON – Less than a week after quickly crafting a rare bipartisan compromise, the House on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a $150 billion economic stimulus package to send checks to millions of low- and middle-income Americans.
But what shape the final legislation will take remains unclear as the Senate begins debate on its own plan amid more signs of economic instability.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., will convene a meeting today to consider his version, which differs substantially from the House bill. And other senators are pushing a range of proposals that would augment the carefully crafted deal worked out last week by House leaders and the Bush administration.
The House measure – a mix of tax rebates, business incentives and relief for strapped mortgage-holders – passed 385-35. (Republicans Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Washington, and Bill Sali, of Idaho, both voted for the measure.) But the lopsided vote did nothing to deter the Senate from seeking to put its own imprint on the politically popular legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he has received 15 letters from lawmakers proposing additions, including more spending on public works and more mortgage assistance.
The proliferating suggestions, which could jeopardize chances of passing a stimulus package by mid-February, have set off alarm bells in the White House and House chamber. On Monday, President Bush warned senators in his State of the Union speech not to “load up the bill” with additional payouts.
The relatively simple House measure relies primarily on tax rebates for many households and a package of temporary tax breaks to encourage businesses to expand and create more jobs this year.
Single filers would get a $600 rebate that would begin phasing out for taxpayers earning more than $75,000. The phase-out for married couples – who would get $1,200 rebates or more if they have children – would start at $150,000.
Many Democratic senators see the measure as inadequate, however.
Baucus has proposed the most comprehensive alternative to the House bill. The Finance Committee chairman would make smaller rebates available to millions more taxpayers, including senior citizens living on Social Security who are not covered by the House bill.
He has also proposed sending rebates to wealthy Americans who would not get checks under the House plan, upsetting some of his fellow Democrats.
Many Americans would receive $500 checks under his plan.
Baucus would also like to extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks.