Washington The House voted Tuesday to rush rebates of $600-$1,200 to most taxpayers, but a partisan battle brewed in the Senate over Democrats' efforts to add jobless aid and help for the poor to the economic stimulus package.
The House plan, approved 385-35 after little debate, would send rebates to some 111 million families and give tax breaks to businesses, costing $161 billion over two years.
President Bush and House leaders urged the Senate to take the bipartisan agreement and pass it quickly. Sen. Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, planned a vote today in his panel on a $196 billion package that could face a slower path to passage.
"The temptation is going to be for the Senate to load it up," Bush said in the Oval Office. "My concern is that we need to get this bill out of the Senate and on my desk."
Baucus' measure adds $35 billion for senior citizens and the unemployed, and shrinks the rebate to $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples. It would deliver checks even to the richest taxpayers, who are disqualified under the House-passed measure.
Congressional leaders are aiming to send the package to Bush by Feb. 15. The goal was to start mailing out rebate checks in May and to have most of them to taxpayers by July so that people would spend the money and kick-start a slumping economy. But the divergent plans - and bids by Senate Democrats and some Republicans to enlarge the package with more add-ons - could drag out that schedule.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she hoped the Senate would "take this bill and run with it."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that was unlikely in the freewheeling Senate, where members in both parties have elaborate wish-lists for adding to the bill, including food stamps, Medicaid and heating assistance for low-income people and spending on infrastructure projects, among other things.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, signaled he would try to block Baucus' measure and prevent senators from adding items.
"This is a time to show we can rise above partisanship, do something important and do it quickly," McConnell said. "The only way to achieve that would be to take up and pass the House-passed bill."