By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 18, 2008
Senate Democrats plan to unveil a second fiscal stimulus plan next week, this one worth at least $50 billion, arguing that soaring energy prices and the crisis in the housing market require a major jobs program to kick-start a faltering economy.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will consider a stimulus plan Tuesday, the first step toward legislation drafted by Democrats that President Bush and congressional Republican leaders oppose. The final details of the Senate legislation are still being developed as lawmakers and staff members pick through an assortment of traditional liberal programs, such as increased funding for highway construction, food stamps and home heating assistance. Also under consideration is another round of government payments to workers.
"We literally are trying to put money into the economy and get it going again," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the majority whip and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.
The House Appropriations Committee is putting together its own plan, but the timing of its introduction is uncertain. Neither chamber is expected to act until September.
Republicans rejected the pending plans as partisan legislation timed to arrive on the House and Senate floors just before the November election.
"Sounds political to me," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who helped craft the $152 billion stimulus plan approved in February.
In contrast to the current stimulus talks, that first package of payments to individuals and business tax cuts was the result of bipartisan talks that involved Boehner, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. It was approved by both chambers and was signed into law less than three weeks after the three unveiled their proposal.
This stimulus program is being written solely by Democrats. President Bush has argued that more time is needed to allow the effects of the tax payments -- which were first mailed in May -- to work through the economy. And congressional Republicans contend that the most important economic step Congress can take now is approving more domestic oil drilling in an effort to decrease fuel costs, a position Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have rejected.
"The most significant thing you could do to stimulate the economy is convince the world that the United States is going to increase its oil supply," said Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), an economics expert close to GOP leadership. "I give them credit for recognizing the need for stimulus; I just disagree with the prescription."
Pelosi told CNN yesterday that she is seeking $50 billion, but that other legislators were pushing for more. Reid told reporters yesterday he is "not a rebate fan," tamping down speculation that another round of checks would go out to the public. Single workers who earn up to $75,000 received as much as $600 and couples got as much as $1,200 in the first payments.
Other lawmakers appear more supportive of another round of payments.
"It's on the table, without getting into what people like or don't like," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). Pelosi told reporters she also favors more payments.
House and Senate Democrats agreed they had consensus on a large infusion of infrastructure spending, particularly on highways.
Other items under consideration are helping states with Medicaid costs and more money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, as well as a possible extension of unemployment benefits beyond the 13 extra weeks that were recently approved.
Despite Democrats' urgent calls for economic action, there are no plans to bring the legislation to the floor until mid-September. Privately, some Democrats said this will put the most pressure on Republicans to break with Bush and the GOP leadership by supporting a potentially popular spending package just before the fall campaign.
Reid said the Senate, which deadlocked yesterday on a bill to curb oil speculation and adjourned until Tuesday, has other pressing issues to address before the stimulus legislation.