The House on Tuesday voted to approve a $146 billion fiscal stimulus package, hoping to seal a fast-paced deal with President Bush on a combination of tax rebates and business incentives aimed at jolting the economy with new spending.
But the deal, which would be the most striking show of bipartisan cooperation since Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, was at risk as Senate Democrats forged ahead with their own, more expensive plan and jockeyed over what to include in it.
The House plan was approved by an overwhelming vote of 385-35. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Republican leader, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, immediately called on the Senate to simply adopt the House bill without changes, as did Bush as he signed an executive order at the White House.
“The temptation is going to be for the Senate to load it up. My concern is that we need to get this bill out of the Senate and on my desk so the checks can get in the hands of our consumers, and our businesses can be assured of the incentives necessary to make investments,” Bush said.
But there was little indication that the Senate had any intention of simply bowing to the lower chamber.
Instead, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, advanced a $163 billion stimulus package that he said was better, despite warnings from House leaders and the White House that he could derail the agreement or plunge the nation too far in debt.
And while the one-year difference in cost of the two plans would seem to be $17 billion, House officials criticized the Senate for trying to blur the full price tag by pushing some expenses into 2009 — making the two-year cost of the Senate package almost $196 billion compared with almost $161 billion for the House version.
Both plans focus on personal tax rebates and incentives for businesses intended to spur spending. The Senate plan also extends unemployment benefits for 13 weeks beyond the 26 weeks currently provided in most states — at a cost of $10 billion in 2008.