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The bipartisan economic stimulus plan has run into a partisan wall in the Senate. Democratic leaders say they'll force votes next week on a number of amendments - they deal with food stamps and unemployment benefits and whether to extend a tax rebate program to low income seniors.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: If House leaders and the President seriously believed their $146 billion stimulus package was going to sail through the Senate, today they received a splash of cold reality. Democratic Senate leaders unveiled plans to have as many as five votes on the package next week in an effort to make it more to their liking. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said one of the votes will be on a bundle of proposals.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): It will be things that we really believe in. There will be unemployment compensation. There will be food stamps. There will be LIHEAP. There will be weatherization. There will be money for counseling, for foreclosure problems we have.
NAYLOR: LIHEAP is the program that helps low-income people pay their heating bills. If the Democrats' bundle fails, leaders will force a separate vote on the LIHEAP proposal. They also want to expand the tax rebates in the House bill to include disabled veterans and low-income seniors who live on Social Security. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.
Senator MAX BAUCUS (Democrat, Montana; Senate Finance Committee Chairman): These 20 million seniors will be left out of the House-passed tax rebate, why? Just because they don't have at least $3,000 in earned income, as in wages, or enough tax for income to meet the tests set up by the House bill.
NAYLOR: Giving rebates to those seniors is at the center of the stimulus bill that the Finance Committee approved yesterday. The committee package will also come up for a vote next week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced the measure as being weighed down with giveaways.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): As soon as the bill hit the Senate, it started to look a lot like Christmas over here. Chairman Baucus added 10 new provisions before the bill was even considered in committee. Three more amendments were added in the committee. You could almost hear Bing Crosby's voice coming out of the finance committee. And so, the stimulus train is slowing, grinding to a halt here in the U.S. Senate.
NAYLOR: The finance committee bill would give rebate checks of $500 to individuals, twice that to couples. It would extend those rebates, not only to low-income seniors, but to everyone earning up to $150,000, double the income cap in the House bill. Its cost has put it $161 billion, some $15 billion more than the House-passed plan. The Bush administration is worried that the Senate, by insisting on its own measure rather than simply adopting the House bill, is delaying the stimulus package and its effect on the economy. But Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said that wasn't the case.
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): We are right on track to do that. And we are not delaying or slowing down this package. Congress is working, the Senate is working, the Finance Committee is working with great speed. We will have a package on the president's desk.
NAYLOR: Democratic leaders hope pressure from outside groups, such as AARP, will force moderate Republicans to back the extension of rebates to seniors. But in the end, the Senate may wind up approving the House bill without changing it. Republicans are likely to insist that any amendment win 60 votes to be adopted. So Democrats will need not only some GOP defections, but support from all of their own senators, including those out on the campaign trail. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.