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Senate Democrats Scale Back Goals of Stimulus Package

Senate Democrats scaled back their expectations for an economic stimulus package Thursday, deciding to focus most intently on making sure senior citizens and disabled veterans receive tax rebate checks along with other low- and middle-income Americans.

Though the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday passed out a wholesale rewrite of a bill passed by the House and supported by President Bush, Senate Democratic leaders acknowledged that their version of the stimulus package has a slim chance of garnering the 60 votes needed to overcome a likely Republican-led filibuster.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) laid out a debate process by which the Senate would vote on the Finance measure along with an amendment that would just focus in on the Finance plan to provide rebates to seniors and veterans. Democratic leaders also plan to offer an amendment increasing funding for low-income home heating assistance, as well as a package of spending measures, including extended unemployment insurance, increased food stamp benefits and funding for infrastructure, among other things.

Democratic leaders said they had the best shot at winning approval of the heating assistance amendment and the seniors and veterans proposal, particularly because they are calculating that those provisions will be politically difficult for vulnerable Republicans to vote against.

“I cannot believe the Senate is going to say no to 20 million seniors,” said Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). He added, “I’m quite confident the White House is not going to veto that.”

Senate Democrats originally had hoped to add unemployment insurance and food stamp benefits, among other things, to the House-passed bill, which would only provide small-business tax breaks and rebates to low- and middle-income tax filers, but not seniors and veterans on Social Security. But they acknowledged Thursday that neither of those proposals had as good a chance of passage as the home heating assistance provision.

Reid said he expects the Senate to vote on those proposals as early as Monday or as late as Wednesday depending in part on when Democratic and Republican presidential contenders can make it back to Washington, D.C. He also noted that the timing would depend on how quickly staffers could put the various amendments together.

All the amendments will likely be subject to a 60-vote threshold for passage, given that Republicans are expected to object to simple majority votes on the four proposals.

Using a parliamentary maneuver known as “filling the amendment tree,” Democrats plan to effectively prevent Republicans from offering amendments to the bill. Reid said he offered to give Republicans a set number of amendments as long as Democrats could offer the same number of amendments, but that proposal was rejected.

“The answer is, they will have no amendments,” he said.

Despite their attempts to modify the House-passed measure, Democrats said they would vote for that bill if none of their amendments is adopted.

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