House Leaders Eyeing Pared-Down Stimulus

Posted November 14, 2008 at 12:24pm

House Democratic leaders are looking to the Senate to kick off next week’s lame-duck session, with plans of passing a pared-down stimulus package that marries unemployment insurance with auto loan relief.

A senior Democratic aide said House leaders will gavel in Wednesday in anticipation of the Senate sending over a package that day that rolls together two separate issues: an unemployment insurance benefits extension and a $25 billion auto loan rescue measure.

House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is negotiating with Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on language for the auto loan portion of the bill, the aide said.

The House already passed the unemployment insurance bill in October. “If we put auto loans in here, it will pass,” the House Democratic aide said.

The House is coming in Wednesday because rules require three days of notice before going back into session. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) notified Members this afternoon about the plan.

The Senate is gaveling in at noon Monday, but it isn’t expected to vote on the auto loan and unemployment insurance package until Wednesday. If the Senate takes longer than expected, House Democratic leaders are likely to go into recess until the measure makes its way over.

Regardless of Senate activity, House Members will be in town before Wednesday to prepare for the 111th Congress. New Member orientation is set for Sunday, while leadership elections are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seems to be preparing for the fight on the pared-down economic stimulus package.

In a letter sent to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday, Reid laid out his plan to bring up the two provisions in one package, saying: “I plan to press forward with two provisions of [an economic recovery] package — an extension of unemployment benefits, which passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 368-28 and legislation to protect the millions of workers at risk from the possible collapse of our domestic auto industry.”

“The two provisions both address an especially urgent need and seem most likely to win your support and the support of your caucus,” Reid said.

A Republican Senate aide said many GOP lawmakers, including McConnell, are still cool to the automobile loan relief, believing that General Motors Corp., Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. are poorly managed companies that should not be salvaged through more public money.

“I have a very strong position against this,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Banking panel. “I am afraid it would be sending money down a rat hole.”

Senate Democrats said they decided to pursue the auto loan and unemployment insurance package because it seemed most likely to win support from Republicans. The remaining stimulus provisions, contained in a larger economic package, likely will be offered by unanimous consent.

Tim Taylor contributed to this report.