- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

Senate Republicans yesterday blocked a Democrat-sponsored bill for a $40 billion expansion of the compromise economic-stimulus plan to which the House and President Bush agreed last month.

The bill — which called for more tax-rebate checks, more business tax breaks, extended unemployment benefits and home-heating aid for the poor — died in a 58-41 procedural vote, two shy of the 60 votes required under Senate rules to end debate and move to final consideration.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, chided Republicans for standing in the way of plans to add 20 million low-income retirees and 250,000 disabled veterans to the ranks of Americans to receive tax-rebate checks for up to $1,200.

“When given the opportunity to work in a bipartisan manner to help people hurt by our struggling economy, Republicans chose politics first,” said Mr. Reid. “And while they may view this vote as a win, the American people lose.”

The various measures in the Senate bill would have boosted the two-year price tag for the House-passed plan from $161 billion to $205 billion.

Republicans objected to the slew of add-ons, which they said decorated the bill like a “Christmas tree,” including $100 million to pay a lawsuit settlement to coal companies and tax credits for renewable energy initiatives.

Mr. Reid stressed that the bill won support from a majority of senators, including eight Republicans, even if it didn’t get the 60 votes.

The vote cut closely along party lines. The chamber’s Democratic presidential hopefuls — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois — voted yes. Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain of Arizona did not vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called on Democrats to take up the House bill with an amendment to send checks to seniors, disabled veterans and veterans’ widows and to prevent illegal aliens from receiving the rebate checks.

The Republican plan would add about $10 billion to the House package.

“We didn’t block this proposal,” Mr. McConnell told reporters after the vote. “We said there is a better way to go.”

Under the House plan, most workers get a tax rebate check for $600 and married couples get $1,200, with payments phased out for taxpayers earning more than $75,000 a year and couples making $150,000. Businesses receive tax breaks for investing in new plants and equipment.

Senate Democrats would cut checks for $500 to $1,000 for workers and families, but would include retirees and veterans and double the income ceiling to $150,000 for individuals and $300,000 for families.

They also would pay for government-insured bonds to help homeowners refinance mortgages and let businesses with losses write off previously paid taxes.

Both the Senate and House plans award families with children a $300 income tax credit per child.

Mr. Reid said he would meet with Mr. McConnell to negotiate a way to proceed. The majority leader had set a deadline of Feb. 15, when Congress starts a weeklong break for Presidents Day.

President Bush urged the Democrat-led Congress to speed the legislation to his desk so the Internal Revenue Service can start issuing checks. At this time, consumers would not receive the rebates until at least May.

Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, warned the Senate against slowing down the stimulus package with too much tinkering.

“I think the American people were pleased the House came together quickly and agreed with the president and moved a bill that both sides felt was something they could support,” he said. “It wasn’t what either side wanted, but that’s the legislative process.”

In a procedural move, Mr. Reid switched his vote from “yes” to “no” when the votes were tallied in order to preserve his right to recall the bill. The first vote count showed that the bill fell one vote short of the 60-vote majority.

The Democratic Party and Mrs. Clinton last night criticized Mr. McCain for skipping the vote, saying he was too busy campaigning to cast the sole vote needed to pass the stimulus package.

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