Senators Push to Expand Stimulus

By Jonathan Weisman and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 26, 2008

Shrugging off a personal plea from President Bush, senators from both parties said yesterday that they will push for significant additions to the $150 billion stimulus package hammered out Thursday by House leaders and the administration.

Bush, appearing at a retreat for House Republicans in West Virginia, warned Congress not to load the deal with spending projects or delay sending it to his desk for a signature. Although it may not be everything Republicans want, he said, the package of payments to workers and incentives for business investment puts money in the hands of everyday Americans and does not raise taxes.

"Congress should move it quickly," Bush told the lawmakers. "I understand the desire to add provisions from both the right and the left. I strongly believe it would be a mistake to delay or derail this bill."

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), one of the deal's chief negotiators, put a partisan slant on that warning, cautioning: "It would be irresponsible for Senate Democrats to load this bill up with pork and other spending. Families and small businesses need help now, and this agreement shouldn't be derailed because of partisan politics."

But there is nothing partisan about the opposition developing ahead of next week's meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, which will draft its own economic stimulus bill. Republicans and Democrats alike said the administration does not have the right to force a plan on senators who had no say on its details.

"I was very pleased with the progress the House made in working out the agreement, but the Senate is a separate entity, and the White House needs to engage in negotiations with the Senate, as well," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and other administration officials that he will try to add a tax break for corporations that quickly reinvest overseas profits in the United States. None of the officials offered opposition.

"They did not do that, and I don't think they're in any position to do that," Ensign said.

The stimulus package, crafted by Paulson, Boehner and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), would send checks to 117 million families this spring in an effort to promote consumer spending and reverse the slowdown in the economy. Lower- and middle-class workers would receive as much as $600 for individuals or $1,200 for married couples, plus $300 per child. The package also includes one-time tax incentives for businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.

Full payments would go only to individuals who earn less than $75,000 in adjusted gross income and couples who make less than $150,000. If Congress passes the package by mid-February, as projected, the first checks would not go out until May.

White House officials are wary that the Senate might unravel the deal by upsetting the careful balance achieved by Pelosi and Boehner. But in his talk to House Republicans at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Bush did not reject specific ideas or issue a veto threat.

His audience appeared lukewarm about the stimulus plan. Conservatives have complained that it redistributes wealth for political reasons and would be ineffective at jump-starting the economy. When Bush praised Pelosi and Boehner for their leadership in building it, the Republicans did not react until a White House aide at the back of the room started the applause.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company