Stimulus proposal stalls in the Senate

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Unwilling to compromise with Republicans on a two-year, $204 billion economic stimulus package, Senate Democrats failed last night to add aid for millions of senior citizens, disabled veterans and out-of-work Americans.

Democrats might have to settle for only some of the spending if they want to augment a smaller stimulus package that easily cleared the House last month. That measure is a combination of tax rebates for the middle class and incentives for business investment.

"I think the American people would have welcomed a bipartisan effort," said Republican Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, who voted for the package but bemoaned the collapse of cross-party cooperation on the stimulus package.

The Senate Democratic proposal stalled on a procedural vote, falling a vote short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois voted for the package. Republican presidential hopeful John McCain of Arizona missed the vote.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has promised to send some kind of stimulus legislation to the president by the end of next week.

His spokesman said late yesterday that Reid is considering trying another vote on the measure, perhaps as soon as today. "Senator Reid is going to give Republicans a chance to reconsider their vote," said Jim Manley.

Unless he can find a GOP senator to switch, however, Reid might be stuck with something more limited. He could offer a vote on a proposal backed by Senate Republicans to send rebate checks to more than 20 million senior citizens living on Social Security and 250,000 disabled veterans, both of whom are not covered in the House stimulus package.

Yesterday's vote marked the possible demise of a nearly two-week effort by Senate Democrats to greatly expand on the compromise speedily worked out last month by the White House and the leaders of both parties in the House.

The House package - which would inject an estimated $161 billion into the economy over the next two years and cost the Treasury $117 billion over the next decade - won broad bipartisan support, passing 385-35.

It would allow single filers to get a $600 rebate that would begin phasing out for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes over $75,000. Married couples would get $1,200; that rebate would start to phase out at $150,000. Parents would get $300 for each child.

The legislation received a strong endorsement from the president, who joined House leaders in repeatedly urging its swift adoption in the Senate.

But Senate Democrats, led by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, have been determined to try to add to the package.

Baucus last week pushed alternative stimulus legislation through the committee that would have provided smaller rebate checks to many more Americans, including senior citizens living on Social Security and disabled veterans. The measure also would have extended unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans and provided additional tax breaks for renewable energy producers.

Noam N. Levey writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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