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Outlook: the Finance Committee's Stimulus Proposal

February 4, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

(Updated below)

I have been a little confused about the procedural details of how the Senate Finance Committee’s more generous economic stimulus bill will be coming up for a vote. But I get it now; allow me to share…

At 5:30 (ET) this evening, the Senate will vote on whether or not to begin debate of the House’s economic stimulus bill. That vote is expected to pass easily, sending the House’s version to the Senate floor, where amendments to it will be considered beginning on Wednesday morning.

The first amendment vote Wednesday morning will be on substituting the entire text of the Senate-Finance-Committee-approved stimulus proposal (pdf) for the text of the bill that was passed by the House last week. Because of Republican objections to the Finance Committee version, that vote will have to pass the 60-vote hurdle (cloture) that has become the standard in the Senate for considering anything even slightly controversial. This vote will be tight.

Assuming Max Baucus (D-MT), the Finance Committee Chairman and mastermind behind the committee’s stimulus proposal, can hold the Democratic voting bloc together, he’ll need to find six more Republicans (beyond the three who voted for it in the Finance Committee) to vote for his proposal. It’s seems to be up in the air, but at a press conference this morning Baucus claimed that he’s got it in the bag:

>Buoyed by an all-out lobbying blitz from key allies, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) predicted Monday that the chamber would be able to push through his panel’s economic stimulus package, setting up a possible confrontation with the White House and the House.
>The prediction counters the suggestion by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week that Democrats would fall short of the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster and amend a delicately negotiated bipartisan House bill that has garnered White House support.
>“I think he didn’t realize the groups, the number of people who feel like the Finance Committee package is by far the right thing to do,” Baucus said at a Monday news conference when asked why his assessment differed from Reid’s.
>The influential senior’s lobby, AARP, and groups representing homebuilders, union employees and war veterans spent the weekend calling on wayward senators to support the Finance Committee measure.

The Finance Committee bill would increase benefits above the Houses’ version in several areas including an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, an eligibility expansion for payments to low-income seniors and disabled veterans, an expansion of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a tax credit for renewable energy usage and a smattering of tax incentives and write-offs for businesses suffering from the tightening economy.

If the Finance Committee’s substitution amendment is adopted on Wednesday, the debate will be over and the amended bill will move towards final passage and, eventually, a conference committee reconciliation with the House-passed version. If it is not approved, the Senate will then move to consider other pending amendments to the House’s bill, which include bits and pieces of the Finance Committee’s bill. More on what happens if the Finance Committee version fails here.

UPDATE: The cloture vote on proceeding to debate the House’s economic stimulus bill just passed by 80-4. But another issue has popped up, tying in the other big issue the Senate is trying to take care of this week: FISA. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is insisting that the next 30 hours of debate be dedicated to the economic stimulus bill, effectively blocking the votes on amendments to the FISA-reform bill that have been scheduled for Tuesday.

SENATUS watched this go down on (I assume) C-SPAN. Sounds like there were some pretty nasty moments.

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