MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The House today has taken a first step toward providing a stimulus to the ailing economy. It overwhelmingly approved a $146 billion package of tax rebates for individuals and tax breaks for businesses. The vote was 385-35. That sends the measure on to the Senate where it faces changes that some lawmakers fear may delay the bill or even derail it.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: There was little suspense over the outcome of the House vote. The measure, after all, was hammered out in talks between Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican leader John Boehner and the Bush administration. Boehner said it was an example of how Congress is supposed to work.
JOHN BOEHNER: Republicans gave a little, the speaker gave a little, and at the end of the day, we came to an agreement of that I think represents what the American people expect of us. They expect us to find ways to work together, not reasons to continue to fight with each other.
NAYLOR: The measure provides tax rebates of $600 for individuals and twice that for couples. Those who work but don't earn enough to pay income taxes would get rebates of $300 and there's a $300 bonus per child. The rebates phase out for those who earn $75,000, twice that for couples. That's a point of pride for House Democrats, who say it makes the plan progressive but it's a provision that may be lost in the Senate. There, the finance committee plans to meet tomorrow on a stimulus measure that provides rebates for everyone regardless of earnings. It would also broaden the rebates to include low-income seniors on Social Security and extend jobless benefits.
House leaders are wary. Speaker Pelosi says any Senate changes should ensure rebates for low-income workers are kept in place.
NANCY PELOSI: We want that to be intact in the bill. Whatever they can - if they can come to agreement in a bipartisan way and with the administration on some additions to that, we're happy to look at that as we reconcile the two bills.
NAYLOR: Senators from both sides of the aisle are looking at a lot of additions. Republican Susan Collins of Maine says she'll co-sponsor an amendment to expand the low-income heating assistance program known as LIHEAP.
SUSAN COLLINS: It sends high-energy costs that are a partial cause of the downturn in the economy. And since the people having to cope with high-energy costs, this meant that they had less money for discretionary spending. I think that it's a very clear nexus between energy cost and the downturn in the economy.
NAYLOR: Other senators are talking about adding money for road projects, aid to the states and food stamps. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus downplays the changes his panel is planning to make to the House measure.
MAX BAUCUS: We don't substitute it; we build upon it. We take the same structure, make a couple of changes - some basic changes - and so that 20 million seniors now get the benefit, too. And then seniors are going to spend that money. And that could help stimulate the economy.
NAYLOR: But Baucus is meeting opposition from some of his own party as well as Republican Senate leaders. North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan questions the wisdom of giving tax rebates to the likes of Bill Gates.
BYRON DORGAN: It's preposterous, however, to be sending rebate checks to those at the top of the income ladder that are making millions of dollars a year. That doesn't make any sense, you know. I mean, we just have to use a little common sense here.
NAYLOR: Minority leader Mitch McConnell is calling on the Senate to approve the House plan as it is. A course of action that appears increasingly unlikely. But it's not clear how much the Senate can change the House past measure before losing the support of House leaders and the Bush administration.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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