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Congress and the economy: After stimulus bill, what next?

Congress is likely to try other economic boosts. The GOP wants to extend the Bush tax cuts set to expire in 2010.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 11, 2008

SOURCE: US Congress/AP

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Washington

The prospect of a sputtering economy in an election year all but ensured the swift passage of a $152 billion stimulus plan in Congress last week.

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But the plan is just the start of a legislative session that is shifting focus from the Iraq war to America's economic woes.

In the rush to complete a stimulus bill that would be timely, lawmakers dropped proposals ranging from extending unemployment insurance to beefing up alternative tax credits. All are grist for the debate over 2009 fiscal spending or add-ons to other legislation this year.

"This [stimulus bill] appears to be what is possible now, but there is more to be done. Almost all these issues will be revisited – and in the not-too-distant future," says Sen. Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee.

Other proposals that didn't survive included targeting relief to homeowners caught up in the home foreclosure crisis or contending with soaring home heating costs this winter.

Even before the White House signing ceremony, expected this week, the Internal Revenue Service is preparing to send rebate checks to some 130 million families.

Along with these checks, the plan aims to increase investment tax breaks, and to expand refinancing opportunities in the housing market. It passed the Senate by a vote of 81 to 16 Thursday, and, just hours later, by a House vote of 380 to 34.

"This economic-growth package is an example of bipartisan cooperation at a time when the American people most expect it," said President Bush in a statement after the final House vote.

This rare surge of bipartisanship followed close consultation among congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson - and a press from lobbyists and constituents eager to know when their checks would be in the mail. (Answer: Taxpayers who file their 2007 tax returns on time can expect checks as early as May.)

At the heart of the deal are hundreds of dollars in "recovery rebate" checks to consumers and tax breaks to businesses. To qualify for rebate checks, individuals must be legal residents of the United States and earn at least $3,000, including Social Security income and veterans' disability payments. Checks range from $300 to $600 for individuals and $600 to $1,200 for married couples, plus an additional $300 for each child.

Two compromises paved the way for the agreement: A House deal expanded eligibility for rebate checks to lower-income groups, and a Senate deal added low-income seniors and disabled veterans, while drawing the line on adding anything else.

Negotiations on a plan began in the House, where Democratic leaders convinced the White House to expand eligibility for checks to some 35 million working families who made too little to pay income taxes – and phase out those with adjusted gross incomes of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples.

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