Senate Democrats push wider stimulus

Top Senate Democrats say they are determined to expand the $146 billion economic-stimulus plan, ignoring White House warnings that it could kill the bipartisan deal brokered in the House.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and chairman of the Finance Committee, said he wants rebate checks also to go to seniors living on Social Security, and aims to extend unemployment benefits.

“Americans want Congress to pass economic stimulus fast but they also want us to get it right,” Mr. Baucus said.

The Senate Finance Committee today is preparing to mark up its bill for a bigger economic boost, even as the House is scheduled to vote on the package endorsed by President Bush that would give tax-rebate checks to most workers and tax breaks to businesses.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, won rebate checks for workers who don’t make enough money to pay income tax — an expenditure originally opposed by Republicans — in part by dropping her party’s demand for more unemployment payments.

The House bill would send rebate checks for $300 to the poorest workers, $600 for individual taxpayers and as much as $1,800 for families with children, as well as provide tax write-offs for business’ capital investments.

Mr. Bush has warned that tinkering with the bill could derail it, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, is backing the proposed rewrite.

“I strongly support Chairman Baucus‘ efforts to garner bipartisan support to improve the House agreement, and I intend to take legislation to the floor as quickly as possible to strengthen the economy,” Mr. Reid said.

The bill is scheduled for markup in the Finance Committee tomorrow and could go to the full Senate as soon as Thursday.

The push for stimulus add-ons has garnered bipartisan support, including a proposal from Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, to award tax credits to businesses that lack funds to make investment.

“There are at least a dozen people who want to add things,” a senior Republican aide said. “That’s the danger. It gets too big, too top-heavy.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, vowed to add spending on unemployment benefits, food stamps and home-heating-oil assistance.

“Families are in crisis, and it’s not enough just to help with their taxes,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, wants to include a provision making permanent the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts that otherwise expire in two years, although that could amount to a poison pill for Democrats.

Mr. Bush, seeking to shore up support for the House bill, reassured Republicans last week that the tax cuts will remain a top priority for the administration after the stimulus package is adopted.

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