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THE NATION

Democrats fail to add to stimulus bill

GOP senators oppose an effort to expand aid to seniors, disabled veterans and the nation's jobless.

February 07, 2008|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Unwilling to compromise with Republicans on a two-year, $204-billion economic stimulus package, Senate Democrats failed Wednesday night to include aid to millions of senior citizens, disabled veterans and out-of-work Americans.

Democrats may now have to settle for only some of the spending if they want to augment a smaller stimulus package that easily cleared the House last month. That measure is a combination of tax rebates, incentives for business investment and housing assistance.

"I think the American people would have welcomed a bipartisan effort," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), who voted for the package but bemoaned the collapse of cross-party cooperation on the stimulus package.

The Senate Democratic proposal stalled on a procedural vote, falling a vote short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois voted for the package. Republican presidential hopeful John McCain of Arizona missed the vote.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to send some kind of stimulus legislation to the president by the end of next week.

His spokesman said late Wednesday that Reid was considering another vote on the measure, perhaps today. "Sen. Reid is going to give Republicans a chance to reconsider their vote," Jim Manley said.

Unless he can find a GOP senator to switch, however, Reid may be stuck with something more limited. He could offer a vote on a proposal backed by Senate Republicans to send rebate checks to more than 20 million senior citizens living on Social Security and some 250,000 disabled veterans, both of whom are not covered in the House stimulus package.

Wednesday's vote marked the possible demise of a nearly two-week effort by Senate Democrats to greatly expand on the compromise speedily worked out last month by the White House and the leaders of both parties in the House.

The House package -- which would inject an estimated $161 billion into the economy over the next two years and cost the Treasury $117 billion over the next decade -- won unusually broad bipartisan support, passing 385 to 35.

It would allow single filers to get a $600 rebate that would begin phasing out for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes over $75,000. Married couples would get $1,200; that rebate would start to phase out at $150,000. Parents would get $300 for each child.

The legislation received a strong endorsement from the president, who joined House leaders in repeatedly urging its swift adoption in the Senate.

But Senate Democrats, led by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), have been determined to add to the package.

Baucus last week pushed alternative stimulus legislation through the committee that would have provided smaller rebate checks to many more Americans, including senior citizens living on Social Security and disabled veterans. The measure also would have extended unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans and provided additional tax breaks for renewable energy producers.

Senate Democrats subsequently tried to provide more money for those struggling to pay their energy bills.

The proposals initially won the support of a handful of Republican senators. But as GOP opposition stiffened to provisions such as the extended unemployment benefits, the tone of the debate soured quickly.

Reid, who had talked about having separate votes on popular provisions such as rebates for seniors, withdrew the offer this week.

Instead, the majority leader promised to force Republicans to choose between voting for the entire Democratic package or nothing. Reid talked of making Republicans take tough votes and accused them of being unsupportive of seniors and other needy Americans.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who rebuffed Reid's initial efforts to negotiate a compromise, and other Republicans accused Democrats of trying to score points with legislation considered vital to help keep the economy from sliding into a recession.

"There are some firebrands over there who want to make a political thing out of this," complained Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), noting that a compromise would have helped Democrats more than the standoff.

"It would be a victory for them, a bipartisan victory," he said.

By Wednesday, many moderate Republicans were irritated by the political posturing.

Despite intense lobbying by industry groups, labor unions and the 39-million-member AARP, only eight Republicans voted for the Senate Democratic stimulus package.

That left Democrats one shy of the 60 votes they needed. The final vote was 58-41, as Reid changed his vote for procedural reasons.

Within minutes of the setback, Democrats -- including the party's Senate campaign committee -- accused Republican lawmakers of blocking aid to seniors, veterans and other groups in need. .

--

noam.levey@latimes.com

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