WASHINGTON – The Senate is set to begin voting on dueling economic aid proposals, as senators rush to add jobless benefits and tax rebates for high earners, the elderly, and disabled veterans to a House-passed package.
Senate Democrats and some Republicans are teaming up to tack $32 billion onto the House measure with a bill that would send rebates of $500-$1,000 to all but the richest taxpayers. Families also would get $300 for each child. Senators could begin voting as early as Thursday in hopes of completing the package by week's end.
Provided that President Bush quickly signs the legislation, Americans could start receiving rebate checks in May, with the bulk expected to arrive in June.
The measure would make individuals with annual incomes of up to $150,000 and couples with incomes up to $300,000 eligible for the rebates — limits twice as high as the plan the House passed on Tuesday.
It also would expand rebate eligibility to 20 million older Americans on Social Security and to disabled veterans, and provide an unemployment extension for those whose benefits have run out.
"It helps seniors and it helps those hit hardest by the economic downturn," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., the plan's author.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure on a bipartisan vote Wednesday.
But the plan defies entreaties from President Bush, House leaders and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to keep the narrower House bill intact. The Senate measure would pump $193 billion into the economy over the next two years, compared with the $161 billion House measure.
"The Baucus proposal has become yet another Christmas tree and will only grow and slow down when it reaches the Senate floor. We need to act now, and the way to do that is the bipartisan bill that passed the House by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin," McConnell said late Wednesday.
Still, the senior Finance Republican, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, came out in support of the plan and said he would team with Baucus to resist efforts to add to it.
"This cannot be loaded down or it is likely to sink," Grassley said
Senators already were lining up with more add-ons to the bill, including food stamp and heating assistance for the poor.
The most expensive change, though, was Baucus' larger rebate, which would cost about $18 billion more than the House-passed rebates.
Baucus' measure would extend unemployment payments for 13 weeks for those whose benefits have run out, with 26 more weeks available in states with the highest unemployment rates. The only state that currently meets the trigger is Michigan.
It also goes further than the House package in efforts to bar illegal immigrants from receiving rebates. Under the Senate measure, recipients and their spouses and children would have to have valid Social Security numbers to qualify. The House bill omits that requirement, although it expressly disqualifies nonresident aliens.
The Senate plan would restore a business tax break dropped during the House negotiations that would permit corporations suffering losses now to reclaim taxes previously paid.
Both packages include roughly $50 billion worth of tax incentives for businesses to invest in new plants and equipment. Baucus' measure also adds $5.5 billion in renewable energy tax incentives.