Senate Delays Action on Its $157 Billion Stimulus Bill
Friday, February 1, 2008
Senate Democratic leaders yesterday put off an expected showdown over an economic stimulus plan until next week, worrying that the absence of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) could doom efforts to force changes to the package fashioned by House leaders and President Bush.
"I still have two Democratic senators" on the campaign trail, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said. "Next Tuesday is Super Tuesday, and they're both very busy, as is Senator [John] McCain. So I probably can't get them back here until Monday, but I need them back."
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the delay has less to do with presidential politics than parliamentary jousting over revisions to separate legislation that would continue government authority for warrantless surveillance of terrorist suspects. That bill could become part of a larger deal, but in either case it is clear that Democratic votes will be at a premium.
Reid and other Democratic leaders all but conceded they would not have the 60 votes needed to replace the $146 billion stimulus plan passed by the House earlier this week with a $157 billion version approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.
The Senate version includes extensions of unemployment benefits and rebates for more affluent workers, disabled veterans and low-income seniors -- none of which are included in the House plan.
The House package offers $600 rebates to individuals -- $1,200 to couples -- plus $300 for each child. It begins to phase out eligibility at $75,000 in adjusted gross income for individuals and $150,000 per couple. The Senate version offers $500 to couples and $1,000 to couples, but doubles the size of the eligibility caps.
In a speech in North Carolina yesterday, Vice President Cheney said any additional changes to the stimulus package "would only slow down the process or derail the bill altogether." The package is "not perfect legislation," Cheney said, but is "a sensible, fair, bipartisan agreement."
In fact, a delay in consideration of the stimulus plans should have no impact on how quickly payments are mailed. The Internal Revenue Service will determine the size of payments based on 2007 tax returns, which are not due until April 15. It will take two months to reprogram IRS computers to cut those checks, a process the IRS intends to begin in mid-March in order to be ready to send the first checks in mid-May.
But Senate leaders clearly were plotting a course that is almost certain to force changes to the deal worked out by President Bush and House leaders of both parties.
If the Finance Committee version is killed by a Republican filibuster, as is possible, Reid plans to attempt to change the House bill piecemeal. He would first offer a package of Democratic changes that include unemployment insurance and food stamp extensions, heating assistance for the poor, home weatherization funds, mortgage counseling and a plan to allow states to offer tax-free home-building bonds.
Democrats would then offer separate votes on two measures with the most bipartisan support: one on tax rebates for 20 million seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans who, under the House bill, would not qualify because they could not show $3,000 in earned income last year; the other on low-income heating assistance.
That series of votes was arranged to virtually ensure that the House-passed stimulus plan would be modified in the Senate, forcing negotiations between the chambers. Even with such negotiations, Reid was confident a deal would be sent to Bush by Congress's self-imposed deadline of Feb. 15.