Senate Adds Seniors and Vets to Stimulus Package; Plan Headed Back to House

Posted February 7, 2008 at 4:18pm

After a tense week of partisan bickering over an economic stimulus plan, Senate Democrats and Republicans quickly maneuvered today to give senior citizens and disabled veterans tax rebate checks and passed a bill that appeared likely to receive swift House concurrence.

By a 91-6 vote, the Senate agreed to add seniors, veterans and the widows of veterans to a House-passed bill to provide tax rebate checks to low- and middle-income tax filers and also added limited tax incentives to small businesses. The vote on final passage of the bill was 81-16.

The House was expected to quickly pass the Senate deal later today, according to Democratic aides. House Democratic and Republican leaders earlier had agreed to back additional benefits for seniors and veterans and additional restrictions aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from receiving rebate checks.

The bipartisan movement in the Senate came after Democrats failed by one vote on Wednesday evening to get the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster of a larger Senate Finance Committee package that included seniors and veterans as well as an extension of unemployment insurance, additional funds for low-income home heating assistance programs known as LIHEAP, an energy tax package and expanded incentives for small business investment.

Even though their victory was muddied by their shifting strategies over the past week and a half, Democrats touted their ability to “improve” the House measure in the face of stiff resistance from the White House, Congressional Republicans and even their own party’s leadership in the House.

“Most Senate Republicans were quick to endorse the House stimulus bill with no revisions, even though we pointed out initially that we thought it was inadequate and we had to add to that,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of the GOP’s position two weeks ago. “If we had listened to the advice of our Republican colleagues … 21.5 million seniors would have no part of this stimulus package. If we had listened to them, 250,000 wounded Americans would have had no benefit from this.”

Reid had attempted during the Wednesday vote to convince Republicans that they would have only one shot — through the Finance package — to provide rebates to seniors and veterans, even though he said last week he would hold a separate vote on the seniors and veterans question.

On Tuesday, Reid said he was “not much of a bluffer” and dared Republicans to vote against the Finance package. But most Republicans called Reid’s bluff on Wednesday evening and blocked the Finance package from moving forward.

“I feel very strongly we did the right thing,” Reid said of his take-it-or-leave-it gambit. “As a result of that, I feel very confident we picked up two votes more. I thought we’d pick up one more. Someone who was going to vote with us didn’t.”

Democrats persuaded eight Republicans to vote with them on Wednesday, but they need nine to prevail.

The relatively modest changes the Senate was able to achieve Thursday were portrayed by some Republicans as a “cave-in” to their more recent demands to add only seniors and veterans to the House bill.

Publicly, however, Republicans lauded the deal as a win for the American people.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it “an important bipartisan accomplishment.”

McConnell said the final deal “demonstrates that we are once in a while able to come together for the country.”

Despite earlier objecting to any changes to the House bill, McConnell said Republicans felt the simple modifications the Senate made were good ones, and added that regardless of how the package ultimately came together, “the news today is that we got there.”

Erin P. Billings and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.