Senate Democrats Adding to Stimulus

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Democrats will move to add to a $150 billion economic stimulus package rebates for senior citizens living off Social Security and an extension of unemployment benefits, setting up a clash with the White House and House leaders who are pushing a narrower package.

As the House planned a vote Tuesday on a plan that would speed rebates of up to $600 to most income earners - more for couples and families with children - the Senate was planning to draft its own measure with the add-ons, said senior Senate aides in both parties, speaking on condition of anonymity because the package is not yet final.

The move was in defiance of admonitions from the Bush administration not to risk derailing the deal with changes, and it threatened to slow what was shaping up as an extraordinarily rapid trip through Congress for the stimulus measure. The president and House leaders agreed last week on a proposal to provide rebates to 117 million families and to give businesses $50 billion in incentives to invest in new plants and equipment. The goal is to help head off a recession and boost consumer confidence.

A meeting of the Senate Finance Committee to draft a new version of the bill could come as early as Wednesday.

Adding rebates for senior citizens living solely off Social Security checks - who are ineligible under the plan hatched by House leaders and the White House - would likely mean doling out smaller rebates overall, shrinking the size of the payments from $600 to $500, according to aides familiar with the emerging proposal.

President Bush planned to use his State of the Union address on Monday night to call on Congress to move quickly on the agreement, the White House said.

Bush will tell "Congress, and specifically the Senate, not to delay or derail this agreement," said Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman.

Still, pressure from the elderly and labor unions - both politically potent forces - is spurring senators from both parties to call for the extras.

The House plan leaves out some 20 million seniors, according to the AARP.

The Senate measure is likely to include a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits and a 26-week extension in states where the unemployment rate exceeds 6 percent, the aides said.

The White House has warned against tinkering with the agreement reached with House leaders last week.

"I don't think the Senate is going to want to derail this program," Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Bush's pointman on the deal, told CNN on Sunday. "And I don't think the American people are going to be anything but impatient if we don't enact this bipartisan agreement quickly."

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said the Senate would consider adding to that plan, including extending unemployment benefits, boosting home heating subsidies, raising food stamp benefits and approving money for public works projects.

Senate Republicans and Democrats - kept on the sidelines as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, cut the deal with Paulson last week - were eager to put their stamp on the high-profile package. Several wish-lists were floating around Capitol Hill, but the unemployment extension and rebates for seniors appeared to have the most bipartisan appeal.

Some senators also were pressing to add to the business tax breaks in the package, including restoring a measure dropped during the House negotiations that would let businesses suffering losses now to reclaim taxes previously paid.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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