WASHINGTON - United for urgent action, the White House and Congress raced toward emergency steps Thursday to rescue the national economy from a possible recession, including tax rebates of at least $300 a person - and maybe as much as $800.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke endorsed the idea of putting money into the hands of those who would spend it quickly and boost the flagging economy.
All the talk of rescue efforts failed to soothe Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrials plunged 306.95 points, underscoring deepening concern about the country's economic health.
The sudden scramble to take action came as fears mounted that a severe housing slump and a painful credit crisis could cause people to clamp down on their spending and businesses to put a lid on hiring, throwing the country into its first recession since 2001.
President Bush told congressional leaders privately he favors income tax rebates for people and tax breaks for businesses, officials said. Bush spoke with congressional leaders as House aides worked behind the scenes on an emergency package that could also include more money for food stamp recipients and the unemployed.
Lawmakers and aides involved in the talks said the White House is pressing for tax rebates of $800 for individuals and $1,600 for married couples. Lawmakers were likely to settle on a $500 rebate for individuals, said an aide involved in the talks, with details for couples and people with children still being negotiated.
The rebates would likely be limited to individuals with incomes of $85,000 or less and couples with incomes of $110,000 or less, the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no final decisions had been made.
The president did not push for a permanent extension of his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, many of which are due to expire in 2010, one official said. That would eliminate a potential stumbling block to swift action by Congress, since most Democrats oppose making the tax cuts permanent.
Bush planned to lay out his position today, but he wasn't expected to go into specifics. Press secretary Dana Perino said he would demand that any package be effective, simple and temporary.
Bernanke voiced his support for a stimulus package in an appearance before the House Budget Committee. He stressed that it must be temporary and must be implemented quickly - so that its economic effects could be felt as much as possible within the next 12 months. 'Putting money into the hands of households and firms that would spend it in the near term' is a priority, he said.
Especially important is making sure a plan can put cash into the hands of poor people and the middle class, who are most likely to spend it right away, he said, though he added that research shows affluent people also spend some of their rebates.