WASHINGTON - With bipartisan support, the Senate Finance Committee yesterday approved a $157 billion economic stimulus plan that rivals the measure fashioned by President Bush and House leaders, setting up a Senate showdown today that could determine who will receive rebates from the government and when the checks will arrive.
The Bush Administration and House leaders had hoped the Senate would simply accept the stimulus plan approved by the House on Tuesday, ensuring final passage this week and the mailing of the first checks by May. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) will try today to block the Senate from adopting the Finance Committee plan and force the passage of the House bill instead.
That effort received a blow yesterday when Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the influential ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, threw his weight behind the Senate alternative.
"Concern with timing must be weighed against the question of the quality of the House bill," Mr. Grassley said, singling out that plan's failure to include as many as 20 million retirees in its tax payment plan.
Senators added provisions to the Finance Committee bill to make a "no" vote on the Senate version very difficult, offering federal stimulus checks to 20 million low-income seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans who would be ineligible under the compromise worked out by Mr. Bush and House leaders. Senators also tightened wording in the House bill to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim a check.
After the Finance Committee vote, AARP launched a lobbying push to win passage of the Senate version. Advocates of the Senate bill said House-Senate talks should take a few days.
The Senate Finance Committee bill would send checks to virtually every American. Individuals would receive $500 - for couples, it would be $1,000 - plus $300 per child. Workers who can show $3,000 in earned income last year - or seniors who had $3,000 in Social Security benefits - would also qualify, even if they earned too little to pay income taxes.
After a revolt among Senate Democrats, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) added income caps on eligibility that he had initially rejected, but they are considerably more generous than the ones imposed by the House. Rather than capping eligibility for the full check at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples, the new bill phases out eligibility at $150,000 for individuals and $300,000 per couple.