Senate Panel Offers Rival Stimulus Plan

As the House's $146 billion economic-stimulus bill reaches the Senate, the Senate Finance Committee is ready with an alternative.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now, from border security to economic stability. Lawmakers in Washington have been negotiating a way to give the economy a boost. On Tuesday, the House approved a $146-billion stimulus plan. Now, the Senate is debating a modified version. It would give rebate checks to all, but the wealthiest Americans, and could be approved as early as today.

NPR's Brian Naylor has more.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The Senate bill gives somewhat smaller rebates than the House plan, but more people would get them. It got bipartisan support yesterday in the Senate Finance Committee. Chairman Max Baucus of Montana said that many will benefit from his bill, including the elderly and disabled veterans.

Senator MAX BAUCUS (Democrat, Montana; Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on Finance): Twenty one million senior citizens received a rebate check. They would not receive benefits under the House-passed bill. In addition, about a quarter of a million disabled veterans can receive a rebate check. Those disabled vets will not get rebate checks under the House-passed bill.

NAYLOR: The Senate measure would give $500 to individuals compared to $600 under the House plan. Families with children would get $300 bonuses under both bills. Baucus had originally proposed a rebate with no income caps, but relented after his fellow Democrats howled in protest. The Senate plan would now phase out rebates for individuals earning $150,000 a year, twice that for couples. That doubles the caps under the House plan, but it would keep members of the House and Senate from receiving any money. Unlike the House-passed bill, the Senate proposal also extends jobless benefits and provides slightly more in the way of business tax breaks. It would also extend tax breaks for alternative energy sources.

To be sure, there were descending voices on the Finance Committee from Republicans. Arizona Senator Jon Kyl said the bill would do little to help the economy. Utah's Orrin Hatch said the Senate should stick with the House measure, which was negotiated with the Bush administration.

Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah): My fear is that this bill will be transformed on the floor from a lean and mean stimulus package into a bogged down extra spending laden couch potato that we will not be able to get to the president in time to accomplish his purpose.

NAYLOR: And there will be efforts to amend the Senate measure. Lawmakers from northern states want to increase low income heating subsidies, others want money for bridges and highways. The challenge facing Senate leaders is keeping the list of amendments under control to get the bill passed so negotiations can begin with the House.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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