An economic aid plan to send rebates of $600 to $1,200 to most taxpayers passed a key test Monday in the Senate, where Democrats are pushing to add more than $40-billion in help for seniors, disabled veterans and the unemployed.
Democrats were ratcheting up pressure on Republicans to support the add-ons, part of a proposal to pump $204-billion into the economy over the next two years. The House passed its $161-billion economic stimulus bill last week with overwhelming backing from both parties.
The Senate voted 80-4 Monday evening to advance that plan, setting the stage for a test vote as early as Wednesday on the Democrats' much larger proposal.
The Senate measure would send $500-$1,000 rebates to a wider group of people than the House measure covers, add $14.5-billion in jobless benefits and include $5.6-billion in renewable energy tax breaks over the next 10 years. The rebates would be extended to 20-million senior citizens and 250,000 disabled veterans left out of the House bill because they don't earn enough to qualify.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week that the Senate plan didn't have enough support to advance, but on Monday he said a new proposal that includes $1-billion in heating aid for the poor and a housing rescue package included in the House bill could pass and be enacted quickly.
"All Americans should know that their rebate checks will not be delayed a single minute as a result of our debate," Reid said.
Lobbyists for the elderly, labor unions and home builders - among other politically potent groups - were blanketing Capitol Hill in search of votes for the Senate plan.
"There's been a lot of politicking around here about the economic stimulus package," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.