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Senate Adds Aged, Vets to Stimulus Bill

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WASHINGTON — The Senate passed an economic rescue plan Thursday that would speed $600 to $1,200 in rebates to most taxpayers and $300 checks to low-income people, including disabled veterans and the elderly.

The 81-16 vote capped more than a week of political maneuvering that ended only when majority Democrats dropped their demand that the proposal offer jobless benefits, heating aid for the poor and tax breaks for certain industries.

GOP senators blocked those ideas, but agreed to add the rebates for older people and disabled veterans to a $161 billion measure the House passed last month.

House leaders said they would act as early as Thursday night to send the measure to President Bush.

Bush indicated he would sign the measure and said the Senate made changes "in ways I can support."

"This plan is robust, broad-based, timely, and it will be effective," Bush said in a statement. The compromise, he said, was "an example of bipartisan cooperation at a time when the American people most expect it."

The Senate plan would rush rebates _ $600 for individuals, $1,200 for couples _ to most taxpayers and cut business taxes in hopes of reviving the economy. Individuals making up to $75,000 a year and couples earning up to $150,000 would get rebates.

People who paid no income taxes but earned at least $3,000 _ including through Social Security or veterans' disability benefits _ would get a $300 rebate.

If the House follows suit as expected and Bush shortly thereafter signs the measure, the rebate checks would be expected to begin arriving in May. The rebates would be based on 2007 tax returns, which are not due until April 15.

The bill had stalled for more than a week in the Senate. The turnaround came after Democrats fell just one vote short Wednesday of overcoming a GOP filibuster and pressing ahead with their $205 billion plan.

Democrats decided on Thursday against insisting on their package. Instead, they agreed to speed the bipartisan measure, costing $168 billion over two years, to Bush.

"It's our responsibility to pass the strongest bill that we can, and so I think it's tremendous what we'll be able to accomplish," said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We had to finish this quickly."

The retreat came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sided with Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Pelosi, D-Calif., urged the Senate to stop its infighting and pass the bill.

"There's no reason for any more delay on this," Pelosi said.

Thirty-three Republicans joined 46 Democrats and the Senate's two independents to pass the measure. Sixteen Republicans voted against the plan.

Reid defended his decision to try to pressure Republicans on the larger proposal by offering it as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition along with the rebates for older people and veterans. "I feel very strongly that we did the right thing," Reid said.

Democrats said Republicans would pay a political price for their opposition. The more expensive proposal would have extended unemployment for 13 weeks for people whose benefits had run out; added $1 billion in heating aid for the poor; and provided tax breaks for the home-building, renewable energy and coal industries.

"If today (Republicans) are squirming because they voted 'no,' that's what democracy is all about," said New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the head of the Senate Democratic campaign committee. "The political chips will fall where they may."

But Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said: "Discretion is the better part of valor. 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."

The measure moved through Congress with remarkable speed amid a series of deflating economic reports. Some Republicans, however, expressed reservations that the rebate checks would help much. Other lawmakers worried about expanding the budget deficit.

"We have to remember that every dollar being spent on the stimulus package is being borrowed from our children. And our children's children," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who voted against the bill.