WASHINGTON - Congress gave overwhelming final approval last night to legislation that would send government payments to most American households and grant tax incentives for business investment, sending President Bush a $152 billion stimulus plan for the faltering US economy.
The deal reached yesterday after the Senate added low-income seniors and disabled veterans to the list of people who would receive money under a package previously approved by the House, then overwhelmingly passed the bill, 81 to 16. The House took up and passed the Senate measure last night in a 380-to-34 vote, ensuring that checks will begin reaching recipients by mid-May.
Congress's action on the stimulus package reflected not only the growing concerns in Washington that the nation has slipped into a recession, but also the desire to convince voters that the government is capable of responding quickly. It took two weeks for House leaders from both parties to forge the initial deal with President Bush, for the House to approve it overwhelmingly, for the Senate to amend it, and for Congress to put its final stamp on the legislation.
"This is the Senate at its finest, recognizing this was an opportunity to demonstrate to the public that we could come together, do something important for the country, and do it quickly," said Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader and a Republican of Kentucky. "We were able to put aside our differences not only in the Senate, but with our colleagues in the House and with the administration."
"It's tremendous what we've been able to accomplish," Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the majority leader, added.
Bush released a statement supporting the amended plan, saying it "is robust, broad-based, timely, and it will be effective. This bill will help to stimulate consumer spending and accelerate needed business investment."
The logjam broke quickly after Reid concluded yesterday morning that he could not find one more Republican vote to approve consideration of a more expensive plan crafted by the Senate. Instead, the Senate added nearly $6 billion in benefits to the package fashioned by Bush, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, and the House minority leader, John Boehner of Ohio.
The legislation would provide $600 payments for individuals - $1,200 for couples - plus $300 for each child younger than 17. It would begin to phase out eligibility at $75,000 in adjusted gross income for individuals and at $150,000 for couples. Workers who can show $3,000 in earned income last year - too little on which to pay income taxes - would be eligible for payments of $300. The payments would be sent out separately from tax refunds.
Businesses would be given generous incentives to invest in new plants and equipment. The Federal Housing Administration and the federally backed mortgage consolidators
On a 91-to-6 vote, the Senate added a provision granting $300 checks for seniors, disabled veterans, and veterans' widows who could show $3,000 in Social Security or veterans' disability benefits.