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$168 Billion Stimulus Plan Clears Congress
Friday February 8, 2008 12:37 am ET
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and DAVID STOUT

WASHINGTON — Congress overwhelmingly approved a $168 billion economic stimulus program on Thursday, sending it to President Bush for his signature so that millions of Americans can look forward to government checks in the mail.

The House gave its final approval to the package on Thursday night by a vote of 380 to 34.

The House was able to act because a stalemate in the Senate was broken a few hours earlier after Democrats agreed to add only payments for senior citizens and disabled veterans to a plan approved earlier by the House with the backing of President Bush. The Democrats’ retreat on adding other measures to the bill cleared the way for an 81-to-16 Senate vote in favor of it.

The Democratic senators had wanted to add more than $40 billion to the House version, a proposal that would have brought the cost of the package to about $204 billion over two years.

But Republican senators held firm, frustrating the Democrats’ efforts to get the 60 votes they needed to end debate. But in settling for a $168 billion package, the Senate Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, refused to admit defeat.

“We were able to make the House bill better,” he said, pledging to continue to try to corral enough votes to provide more economic stimulus in the months ahead.

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “The best thing for us to do is declare a big victory that we’ve achieved, namely getting the rebate checks to 20 million seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans.”

President Bush said he was pleased with the outcome. “This economic growth package is an example of bipartisan cooperation at a time when the American people most expect it,” he said in a statement. “I thank members of both parties and both houses for their efforts to advance this important legislation.”

As the terms of the program changed, so did the numbers. At first, the price tag was put at $171 billion over two years; a couple hours later, it was recalculated at $168 billion.

The program calls for rebates ranging from $300 to $1,200 for most taxpayers, payments of $300 to people who paid no income taxes but earned $3,000 or more from Social Security or veterans’ disability benefits, and various tax incentives for businesses.

Voting “yes” were 46 Democratic senators, 33 Republicans and the Senate’s 2 independents. Sixteen Republicans voted “no.” Three Democrats did not vote: Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama, who are campaigning for the presidency, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

The vote in the House had a sense of urgency because that chamber will not be in session on Friday.

The breakthrough came a day after Senate Republicans, by a single vote, blocked a more expansive fiscal stimulus package championed by Democrats, as partisan rancor engulfed the effort to inject a quick burst of spending into the slowing economy.

The package needed 60 votes under Senate rules to move forward but failed 58 to 41, with 8 Republicans joining 48 Democrats and 2 independents in support of it. The majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, switched his vote to no from yes at the last second, a parliamentary move that lets him control the next steps on the bill.

The political brinkmanship in the Senate stood in marked contrast to the House, where Republicans and Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi took just a week to reach a deal on an economic stimulus package with President Bush, and just four more days to pass the bill.

The measure was opposed by Republican leaders who said the Democrats added too many costly provisions, including an extension of unemployment benefits, tax credits for the coal industry and increased subsidies for home energy costs.

The total cost of the Senate plan came to about $204 billion over two years, or about $40 billion more than the House version.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the leading Republican presidential candidate, returned to Washington fresh off his string of victories in Tuesday’s voting, but he did not appear in the Senate chamber and did not vote. Adding to the partisan rancor, Democrats immediately questioned his whereabouts and seemed poised to blame him personally, and Republicans generally, for stalling the bill.

Aides to Mr. McCain said that he would have sided with the Republican leaders and that his vote was not needed.

The two Democratic senators running for the presidential nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, flew in to cast their votes in favor of the Democratic bill.

The partisan feuding in the Senate hardly stemmed from presidential politics alone. Mr. Reid maneuvered aggressively in recent days to strong-arm Republicans into voting for the plan. He added $1 billion in home heating subsidies for low-income families to pressure Republicans from cold-weather states. And he enlisted AARP and an array of other interests groups to lobby for the Senate plan.

But some of those Republicans, like Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, voted against the plan anyway.

Both the House and Senate proposals contain a combination of tax rebates or payments for individuals and families and tax incentives for businesses all intended to spur spending and jump-start the economy. But under the House plan, more than 20 million Americans living on Social Security and more than 250,000 disabled veterans would not be eligible for the payments.



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