An agreement in the Senate appeared within reach on an economic-stimulus program on Thursday afternoon, increasing chances that the House could also ratify it within hours and speed it to President Bush’s desk.
The apparent breakthrough came as Senate Democrats seemed ready to agree to add only tax rebates for senior citizens and disabled veterans to a package already approved overwhelmingly by the House with the backing of President Bush.
“Discretion is the better part of valor,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told The Associated Press after Democrats apparently had abandoned attempts to add some $40 billion to the House package.
“The best thing for us to do is declare a big victory that we’ve achieved, namely getting the rebate checks to 20 million seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans,” Baucus said.
The Republican minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said, “We’re getting close to finalizing what I think is an agreement everyone can feel comfortable with,” The AP said.
The path seemed clear to a quick vote in the Senate, followed by a vote in the House by Thursday evening on the revised package. There was a sense of urgency, because the House is not in session on Friday.
A few hours before the Senate leaders signaled that an accord was at hand, Vice President Dick Cheney urged passage of the basic program already approved by the House and agreed to by the White House.
“Our stimulus package is simple and temporary, with not a penny of wasteful spending to explode the deficit,” he said in an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. “There won’t be any new regulations or economic meddling by the federal government.”
The breakthrough came a day after Senate Republicans, by a single vote, blocked a more expansive fiscal stimulus package championed by Democrats, as partisan rancor engulfed the effort to inject a quick burst of spending into the slowing economy.
The package needed 60 votes under Senate rules to move forward but failed 58-41, with eight Republicans joining 48 Democrats and two independents in support of it. The majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, switched his vote to no from yes at the last second, a parliamentary move that lets him control the next steps on the bill.
The political brinkmanship in the Senate stood in marked contrast to the House, where Republicans and Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi took just a week to reach a deal on an economic stimulus package with President Bush, and just four more days to pass the bill.
The measure was opposed by Republican leaders who said the Democrats added too many costly provisions, including an extension of unemployment benefits, tax credits for the coal industry and increased subsidies for home energy costs.
The total cost of the Senate plan came to about $204 billion over two years, or about $40 billion more than the House version.