Senate's plan doubles income limits for tax rebates

WASHINGTON - A plan to send $500 to $1,000 rebates to all but the richest taxpayers advanced in the Senate on Wednesday after Republicans and Democrats teamed to add aid for disabled veterans, the elderly and the unemployed to a House-passed economic recovery bill.

The package would make individuals with annual incomes of up to $150,000 and couples with incomes up to $300,000 eligible for the rebates. Qualifying families would also get $300 for each child.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure on a bipartisan vote Wednesday, and senior aides said the Senate could begin voting on it as early as Thursday in hopes of completing it by week's end.

The income limits compare with caps of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples in an economic stimulus bill the House passed Tuesday.

They were part of a bill written by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Finance Committee chairman, and backed by Charles Grassley of Iowa, the panel's senior Republican, which would pump $193 billion into the economy over the next two years. The House measure would inject $161 billion.

The Senate plan also would expand rebate eligibility to 20 million older Americans on Social Security and to disabled veterans and tack on an unemployment extension for those whose benefits have run out.

'It helps seniors and it helps those hit hardest by the economic downturn,' Baucus said of his plan.

He said it could win quick approval and be ready for enactment by Feb. 15.

'This cannot be loaded down,' Grassley said, 'or it is likely to sink.'

Baucus originally proposed to let even the richest taxpayers share in the rebates, saying that would attract Republican support for his measure. Grassley said that lifting what some Republicans deemed 'suffocating income limits' in the House plan was a key reason he was backing the bill.

But Senate Democrats balked at the idea of wealthy people - including lawmakers - getting rebate checks. Baucus' new proposal expressly bars members of Congress from getting the checks.

It also goes further than the House package in efforts to bar illegal immigrants from receiving rebates. Under the Senate measure, recipients and their spouses and children would have to have valid Social Security numbers to qualify. The House bill omits that requirement, although it expressly disqualifies nonresident aliens.

In backing the bill, Grassley broke with President Bush and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Both have said the Senate should simply pass the House-passed stimulus measure.