Senate Democrats were apparently repelled by Montana Senator (and Finance Committee chair) Max Baucus's audacious move to expand the House stimulus to the very rich at the expense of the middle class. Last night, Baucus was forced to scale back the extension to the merely well off -- under the bill that passed the Finance Committee, the rebate begins phasing out at $150,000 annual income per person ($300,000 for a married couple). It is Republicans, however, who appear to have doomed the bill altogether: Republican leader Mitch McConnell supports the House measure, and this afternoon, Senate Democrats concluded they don't have the votes to overcome a likely GOP filibuster.
This may be for the best. According to Congressional Quarterly, Senate Democrats plan three votes to amend the House bill that would salvage the good of Baucus's "improvements" -- steering more resources toward the low-income Americans most likely to quickly plow that money back into the economy -- while jettisoning the bad. The first amendment, among other things, extends food stamps and unemployment insurance. The second expands low-income heating assistance. The third sends rebate checks to seniors and disabled vets who wouldn't qualify for the House program.
Passing these measures would certainly make the Bush-House bill a better stimulus. But not a great one: if the point is truly to simulate the economy, then, as economist Mark Zandi notes, the $44 billion spent on tax incentives for business would be better directed toward infrastructure projects.
The votes are scheduled for next Wednesday--delayed to give the three senators still campaigning for president a chance to savor their Super Tuesday victories, or salve their losses, before jetting back to Washington.
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