WASHINGTON - A plan to send $500-$1,000 rebates to all but the richest taxpayers advanced in the Senate yesterday after Republicans and Democrats teamed up to add aid for disabled veterans, the elderly, and the unemployed to a House-passed economic recovery bill.
The package would make individuals with an annual income up to $150,000 and couples with an income up to $300,000 eligible for the rebates. Qualifying families would also get $300 for each child.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure on a bipartisan vote yesterday, and senior aides said the Senate could begin voting on it today in hopes of completing it by week's end.
The income limits compare with caps of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples in an economic stimulus bill the House passed Tuesday.
They were part of a bill written by Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, and backed by Charles Grassley of Iowa, the panel's senior Republican. The legislation would pump $193 billion into the economy over the next two years. The House measure would inject $161 billion.
The Senate plan also would expand rebate eligibility to 20 million older Americans on Social Security and to disabled veterans, and would tack on an unemployment extension for those whose benefits have run out.
"It helps seniors and it helps those hit hardest by the economic downturn," Baucus said of his plan.
He said it could win quick approval and be ready for enactment by Feb. 15.
"This cannot be loaded down," Grassley said, "or it is likely to sink."
Baucus originally proposed to let even the richest taxpayers share in the rebates, saying that would attract Republican support for his measure. Grassley said that lifting what some Republicans deemed "suffocating income limits" in the House plan was a key reason he was backing the bill.
But Senate Democrats balked at the idea of wealthy people - including lawmakers - getting rebate checks. Baucus's new proposal expressly bars members of Congress from getting the checks.
It also goes further than the House package in efforts to bar illegal immigrants from receiving rebates. Under the Senate measure, recipients and their spouses and children would have to have valid Social Security numbers to qualify. The House bill omits that requirement, although it expressly disqualifies nonresident immigrants.
In backing the bill, Grassley broke with President Bush and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Both have said the Senate should simply pass the House-passed stimulus measure.
Grassley told Iowa reporters that he believes the Senate will act quickly on the measure and that he and Baucus will team up to try to block further amendments.
"If Baucus and I can work together, we can keep amendments down, keep it from becoming a Christmas tree," Grassley said.
The bipartisan Senate package faces challenges from the left and right. Democrats and some Republicans said yesterday that they will move to add money for food stamps and heating aid for the poor.
"We have to thread the needle here. We want to improve the bill, but we don't want to move it so far from the House bill that we slow it down," said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York.
Grassley said he does not support $14 billion in additional unemployment insurance for workers whose benefits have run out, but he was willing to go along in exchange for Democratic concessions such as lifting the House bill's income limits.
Baucus's measure would extend unemployment payments for 13 weeks for those whose benefits have run out, with 26 more weeks available in the hardest-hit states.
The Senate plan would restore a business tax break dropped during the House negotiations that would permit corporations suffering losses now to reclaim taxes previously paid.
Both packages include roughly $50 billion worth of tax incentives for businesses to invest in new plants and equipment. Baucus's plan also adds $5.5 billion in renewable energy tax incentives.
Some Republicans criticized the package, saying that only a permanent tax cut would stimulate the economy.