House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed Wednesday to hold a lame-duck session to pass a $200 billion economic-stimulus package likely to include rebates to middle-class taxpayers, despite recent failure to enact less ambitious plans and Republican charges it is a “spending hike to exploit the nation’s economic troubles.”
“With Americans worried about losing their jobs, their savings, their homes and their chance at the American Dream, the ‘New Direction Congress’ will work in a bipartisan way to lift our economy and help America‘s middle class,” Mrs. Pelosi said, adding that hearings on the plan would convene in next few weeks.
Democratic proposals include money for states, New Deal-style public works projects, extended unemployment benefits, expanded eligibility for food stamps and tax rebate payments or tax credits for middle-class workers. The price likely will be between $150 billion and $200 billion, not the $300 billion cost previously reported, top Democratic aides said.
It would be the second economic-stimulus package this year. Congress overwhelmingly passed a $146 billion bill in January that sent tax-rebate checks of $300 to $1,200 to most taxpayers, although economists remain divided on the payments’ success in jump-starting the economy.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner said the new proposal attempted to “mask hundreds of billions in wasteful Washington spending as ‘economic stimulus.’ ”
“Stressed-out families, seniors, and small businesses cannot afford a massive, pork-laden spending spree that will do nothing to stabilize our economy in the long term, nor bring a single dollar of private capital into our markets to help restore their savings and retirement accounts,” the Ohio Republican said. “We need pro-growth policies to get our economy moving.”
In a letter Monday to Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Boehner proposed measures such as an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that includes offshore oil drilling and investments in alternative energy, cutting capital-gains taxes, lowering corporate tax rates and suspending the tax penalty on bringing overseas business profits to the U.S.
Democrats are unlikely to take up any of those suggestions.
The House passed a stimulus plan last month that included most of the Democratic proposals currently under discussion, excluding tax-rebate checks. But the legislation died in the Senate and faced a veto threatened by President Bush.
“Congress must try again,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “That is why I have asked the chairs of relevant committees to schedule hearings in the coming weeks on the key provisions of a fiscally responsible recovery package to get our economy moving again.”
Hearings are expected before the Budget, Ways and Means, Education and Labor, and Joint Economic committees.
Democrats said they anticipate the package will be signed into law this time, despite facing the same Senate and White House as a month ago, because of the widespread economic pain in the country.
“We spent $700 billion on a Wall Street rescue package … but this is something we think is going to help everyday Americans, and we should pass this,” Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said. “This is not a political move. This is something that needs to get done.”
The speaker made the case for a second stimulus plan in a column Wednesday in USA Today, saying the country’s top economists agree that quick action by Congress will “get us out of this recession.”
“The need for this package is undeniable,” Mrs. Pelosi wrote. “America lost nearly 800,000 jobs in the past nine months and 159,000 jobs last month alone. Families throughout the nation are watching as key services - education, public safety, health care and child safety - are dramatically reduced. All families are facing higher energy and food costs.”
She continued, “When Americans are worried about losing their jobs, their savings, their homes and their chance at the American Dream, Congress and the president must work together to lift our economy and restore hope. That is the course the New Direction Congress will continue in the days and weeks ahead.”