Senate balks at House stimulus package
WASHINGTON – With bipartisan support, the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a $157 billion economic stimulus plan that rivals the measure fashioned by President Bush and House leaders, setting up a Senate showdown today that could determine who will receive rebates from the federal government and how quickly the checks will arrive.
The Bush administration and House leaders had hoped the Senate would simply accept the stimulus plan approved by the House on Tuesday, ensuring final passage this week and mailing of the first checks by May. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will try today to block the Senate from adopting the Finance Committee plan and force the passage of the House bill instead.
That effort received a blow Wednesday when Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the influential ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, threw his weight behind the Senate alternative. Finance Committee Republicans Olympia Snowe, of Maine, and Gordon Smith, of Oregon, also backed the bill.
“Concern with timing must be weighed against the question of the quality of the House bill,” he said, singling out that plan’s failure to include as many as 20 million retirees.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is counting on Democrats to stay unified behind their leadership, and said that if enough Republicans join Grassley, a threatened filibuster by McConnell would be broken and the House and Senate would be forced into negotiations on a final stimulus bill.
But with only three Republicans on the Finance Committee voting for the package, and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., absent, Baucus’ ability to round up 60 votes to thwart a filibuster is far from certain.
Senators added provisions to the Finance Committee bill to make a “no” vote on the Senate version very difficult, offering federal stimulus checks to 20 million low-income seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans who would be ineligible under the compromise worked out by Bush and House leaders. Senators also tightened wording in the House bill to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim a check.
After the Finance Committee vote, AARP launched a lobbying push to win passage of the Senate version. Advocates of the Senate bill said House-Senate talks should take a few days.