Senate committee passes stimulus plan
Republicans: Bill gives billions to special interests
By Dana Bash
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid partisan acrimony, the Senate Finance Committee Thursday approved a $67 billion Democratic-backed economic stimulus plan.
The battle over how to jump-start the economy now heads to the Senate floor for debate next week.
The bill, which passed 11-10 along party lines, includes $14 billion in rebate checks for those who pay only payroll taxes.
It also includes $14 billion to extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and extend such benefits to part-time workers who do not currently qualify.
And it would provide $6 billion to subsidize 75 percent of the health care premiums for unemployed workers under the federal COBRA program.
"I'm proud of this bill. It will provide an effective stimulus for economic recovery and provide some basic help to people who have lost their jobs and risk losing their health insurance," said the committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana.
"It's what business leaders and economists tell us they want, that will work. It hits the mark."
Republicans ripped into the Democrats' plan, calling it government spending that does not stimulate the economy.
GOP senators mocked provisions in the bill that give billions of dollars to various agricultural "special interests."
"This is a collage of political giveaways," said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. "It doesn't add up to stimulus and we would be much, much better off not to pass any bill than to pass this bill. This is an economic depressant bill."
Republicans also complained that Baucus and his fellow Democrats used their narrow majority in the committee to pass their own bill, instead of negotiating before the legislation reaches the floor.
"You can ram it through here if you want to ... but when it gets to the floor we are going to have a bipartisan product. We are going to have a product that stimulates the economy," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott.
Lott ticked off a list of tax breaks for everything from strawberries, to pumpkins, to apples as examples of the "pork," or excess spending, in the bill.
Republican moderate Olympia Snowe of Maine, who has been urging both sides to compromise, gave an impassioned speech about her "disgust" with the process.
She said the country wants Congress to get something done to spur the economy in the wake of the September 11 attacks, not to play politics.
"What is it you all don't get?" asked Snowe.
Democrats defended their plan, saying it focuses on working people hit the hardest.
"The greatest stimulus in this country is to put money in the hands of the people who will spend it," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts.
Republicans, led by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have their own $89 billion stimulus plan based on the Bush administration proposal, which they vowed to push on the Senate floor.
Their plan addresses the unemployed and the uninsured, but gives states the responsibility for administering the benefits.
Most senators agreed, at least privately, that unless bipartisan negotiations can produce a compromise, the issue would stalemate on the Senate floor because neither side could likely muster the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster.
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