The House yesterday overwhelmingly passed a $146 billion economic-stimulus bill with rebates of $600 to $1,200 for most people, but the celebration was clouded by fears that Senate Democrats will spoil the bipartisan plan by tinkering with it.
“Let’s hope that the Senate will take its lead from us and be disciplined, focused, fiscally responsible,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said shortly before the House bill passed in a 385-35 vote.
“In a downturn, what you need is confidence,” she said. “A message of confidence is given to the American people when members of Congress can work with the administration in a bipartisan way to put the American people first.”
The stimulus plan — negotiated last week by Mrs. Pelosi, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and the White House in response to a flagging economy — calls for sending $300 rebate checks to the poorest workers, $600 to individual taxpayers and as much as $1,200 for married couples. It also would give tax write-offs for business’ capital investments.
Families with children would get an additional $300 income-tax credit per child.
Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the bill is a good one. It wasn’t perfect, he said, but moving slowly or doing nothing risked further economic hardship for middle-class families.
“It will put money in the pockets of American families,” he said. “It would give businesses reasons to invest in new equipment to maintain and hopefully to expand their employment.”
In the House vote, the measure was opposed by 25 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Many objected to government payouts that boost the federal debt and provide fleeting relief to consumers.
“We simply cannot spend our way into a stable economy and labor market,” said Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, who voted against the bill.
The Internal Revenue Service could start sending out the checks by May, which lawmakers hope will quickly pump cash into the economy. But the checks could be delayed or the deal killed by moves in the Senate.
A bill by Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and Finance Committee chairman, would add to the plan rebate checks for seniors living on Social Security and extend unemployment benefits, increasing the plan’s price tag to $156 billion.
The changes threaten a run-in with the White House and possibly with House Democrats.
President Bush warned the Senate not to “load it up.”
“My concern is that we need to get this bill out of the Senate and on my desk, so the checks can get in the hands of our consumers and our businesses can be assured of the incentive necessary to make investments,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, urged his colleagues to stick to the House-passed bill.
“This is a time to show that we can rise above partisanship, do something important and do it quickly,” he said.
Mr. Baucus‘ bill, which is scheduled for mark up tomorrow in the Finance Committee, would decrease the rebate to $500 for most workers and to $1,000 for married couples. The child tax credit would remain at $300.
It wouldn’t exempt high-income taxpayers from receiving a rebate as in the House version.
Under the House plan, the rebates would be less for workers earning more than $75,000 a year or joint filers making more than $150,000. Individual taxpayers with incomes above $87,000 and couples earning more than $175,000 a year would not receive rebate checks or child tax credits.
Mr. Baucus insists that his rewrite will not slow down the stimulus package and said he has been in close and frequent contact with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., who brokered the deal for the administration, about the proposed changes. A Baucus aide said the talks were not negotiations.
The work on the bill has attracted a slew of proposals for more add-ons, including bids for more business tax credits, food stamps and home heating assistance.
Mr. Baucus doesn’t want to add much more to the package but that will depend on what happens in the committee markup, the aide said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the 15 proposals that he has seen from Democratic members are all good ideas for helping the economy.
“But when you lump them all together it becomes a pretty big vehicle,” the Nevada Democrat said, adding that other economic bills could be taken up within weeks of passing the emergency stimulus plan.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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