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Bush Expected to Sign $150B Stimulus Bill

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Millions of Americans will be getting checks from the government now that Congress has passed a $150 billion economic stimulus bill which calls for tax rebates, among other things. The president is expected to sign the measure soon. The action came after the Senate expanded the package to include seniors and disabled veterans, and the House went along.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: After a nearly week-long partisan stalemate in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats decided to move ahead with what they could all agree on. They voted overwhelmingly to add some 20 million seniors and disabled veterans living on Social Security to the list of those who get rebate checks.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): We're not coming out here today to point fingers at anybody or to argue who outsmarted who. The point was we all got together. We all got together and did something important for the country. We did it quickly, which is fairly unusual around here.

NAYLOR: McConnell's magnanimous remarks came after a GOP filibuster which blocked Democrats from adding provisions to the stimulus measure that would've extended unemployment benefits and boosted funding for a program that helps low income Americans pay their heating bills.

After that vote on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sided with Republicans and implored Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to back off from the added provisions and limit the changes in the measure to the seniors and disabled vets. After a caucus with his fellow Senate Democrats, Reid acquiesced.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): This was bipartisanship in action. But for the bipartisanship taken - that took place in that finance committee, we wouldn't be where we are today.

NAYLOR: The modified stimulus proposal will now give $300 rebates to just about all who don't earn enough to pay income taxes. Those a little better off will get $600 checks, twice that for couples filing jointly. After $75,000 or $150,000 for couples, the rebates phase out. Families with children will get an extra $300 per child.

The measure also contains business tax breaks, changing rules on expensing and depreciation to get businesses to invest in new equipment. And it tightens eligibility for the rebates to keep the checks from going to illegal immigrants. And to address the subprime mortgage crisis, it raises the ceiling on mortgages that would be backed by the government.

To be sure, there were dissenting voices. Republican John Campbell of California called the measure political, not economic stimulus.

Representative JOHN CAMPBELL (Republican, California): I hope you will oppose it because it is wealth redistribution. People who pay over 50 percent of the taxes in this country will get nothing, and roughly 30 percent of the benefit of this will go to people who pay no taxes at all.

NAYLOR: But most lawmakers argue the stimulus package is necessary to give a jolt to an economy that may be teetering on the brink of recession. House Speaker Pelosi said the typical middle income family of four will get $1,800.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): None of us got everything we wanted in the legislation, but we did get a great deal for the American people.

NAYLOR: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the IRS will get to work immediately on processing the rebates, but as the rebate checks will be based on this season's tax returns, it's likely to be May at the earliest before those checks will start going out.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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