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In rare agreement, Congress OKs rebate checks

Package will give most US households $300 to $1,200 apiece, plus an extra $300 per child.

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The battle for the final Republican vote went on until Senator Reid agreed to allow a GOP amendment to the bill, which added 20 million seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans to the list of those receiving rebates under the House plan. They also voted to close a loophole that critics said could have allowed rebate checks for those working in the US illegally.

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"I've been home quite a bit lately and that's what people have been talking about: seniors, veterans, and immigration. That was the glue that kept this deal together," says Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska, who drafted the GOP amendment.

Democrats and outside groups repeatedly lobbied a handful of Republican senators in a bid to tip the vote toward a larger stimulus bill. The AARP, the largest lobby for people over 50, ran full-page ads on the theme: "Millions of people are watching how their Senators vote on Economic Stimulus – no pressure."

In separate press releases after the larger-stimulus package failed, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee targeted both Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky and Sen. John Sununu (R) of New Hampshire as having cast the "deciding vote" against tax rebates for seniors and veterans. Both senators, up for reelection in 2008, voted for the final version of the bill.

Still, nearly half of the Senate Republican caucus ignored the pressure and opposed the bill.

"They were looking at Alaska's [high] unemployment statistics, and thought I'd have pressure to vote for extending unemployment insurance. But I had problems with the underlying premise of the bill," says Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska, who voted against both versions of a stimulus bill.

"It's just handouts to buy votes," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, one of 16 GOP senators who voted against the bill.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R) of New Mexico, who voted with Democrats on an expanded version of a stimulus bill, said that what moved his vote was recent bad economic news. "We clearly face the possibility of a recession," he said on the floor of the Senate on Feb. 6.