The United States House of Representatives approved on Tuesday a 146 billion US dollars economic stimulus package proposed by President George W Bush, but the package has an uncertain future in the Senate.
The vote in the Lower House was a bipartisan 385-35 well above the two thirds voting members to pass. Measures include rebate for people with lower incomes as well as tax incentives for businesses and help for homeowners to refinance their mortgages. "Many Americans in the middle class are living paycheck to paycheck," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters after the vote. "They have to struggle with the rising cost of groceries, gasoline and health care. Today Congress acted in a way that is directly relevant to their lives and we hope the Senate will follow suit", insisted Pelosi. Before the vote Pelosi warned the Senate not to do anything that would slow down final passage of the bill, which was a compromise worked out between the White House and House leaders. However in the Senate both Democrats and Republicans are backing a slightly more expensive package that favors the elderly and unemployed. Significantly, the deal does not exclude benefits to the wealthiest as the current package does. President Bush has already warned the Senate not to delay the bill which he says is crucial to America's economic well-being. Under the president's proposed package, some 117 million US homes would receive a rebate of up to 600 US dollars for individuals and up to 1,200 for married couples. Couples with children will also get an extra 300 per child. The tax rebates for households should total 100 billion, while businesses will benefit from up to 50 billion of tax cuts. The Senate Finance Committee is set to vote Wednesday on its version of the stimulus package, according to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada. Democratic consensus has built around a plan offered by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus to provide a rebate check to about 20 million Social Security recipients who would get nothing under the House plan. The Baucus plan would also extend unemployment benefits. His proposed package would give 500 UD dollars to any American with 3,000 in qualifying income to report on a 2007 tax return, including tens of millions of seniors living on Social Security. Married couples filing jointly would get 1,000 US dollars, and families would receive an additional 300 per child under age 17. The plan also extends by 13 weeks federal unemployment insurance benefits, with more for workers in states with high unemployment. Businesses losing money would be able to write off losses retroactively for as many as five years. The package is expected to cost approximately 156 billion US dollars. "The White House says we mustn't slow the economic stimulus agreement down, or blow it up" said Senator Baucus. "I agree. We're going to improve it and get it passed right away." But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called on the Senate to pass the House bill without amendment, saying that would be the quickest way to stimulate the economy and avoid a test of wills between the House and Senate. Republicans would filibuster efforts to amend the House bill, which could lead to a long delay in passing a bill, according to Congressional sources. There also was disagreement over the Baucus proposal's lack of upper-income limits for rebate eligibility, with some senators saying billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett ought not to get checks. Still, Baucus described his bill as "quite an improvement" over the House version. He said removing the income caps is "clean and simple," while the House-passed bill is "extremely complicated". Baucus predicted the bill would attract the 60 votes needed for passage, and said it could be finalized and signed by February 15.