(Reuters) - The Senate will begin debate next week on a nearly $900 billion economic stimulus bill, giving Republicans an opportunity to amend the legislation, which passed the House of Representatives without any Republican votes.
The Senate debate could stretch into the following week, leaving little time for House-Senate negotiators to come up with a compromise bill by mid-February — Democratic President Barack Obama’s deadline.
Here are some details on the Democratic-backed legislation, which aims to pull the United States out of a deepening recession that saw the economy contract at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the largest one-quarter decline since 1982:
* As currently written, the Senate bill contains $342 billion in temporary tax breaks and more than $545 billion in spending to total about $887 billion. That spending would occur over several years, but the goal is to shovel much of it out this year and next to help generate jobs through new construction projects and other programs.
* The House of Representatives has passed a bill estimated to cost around $819 billion, including $275 billion in tax cuts over two years. No Republicans voted for the bill after they failed to eliminate all the spending and substitute their own package of tax cuts estimated to cost about $478 billion.
* The Senate version is more expensive, mainly because of a tax provision that would shield middle-class taxpayers from getting nudged into paying a tax that is intended for the wealthiest. It was not yet clear whether the provision will survive in this bill or be dealt with later this year.
* Obama says he is open to new ideas from Republicans and Democrats that would strengthen the bill, either on the tax or spending side.
* Among amendments senators were considering proposing during Senate debate are:
- Dedicating more spending for investments while cutting other spending that might not create jobs;
- Imposing a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures, which have been skyrocketing as the economy soured;
- Increasing the ratio of tax cuts to spending. These could include more help for businesses to invest and create jobs, allowing new tax breaks for companies that repatriate profits held overseas and using the tax code to encourage more home-buying.
* Despite the Republican criticism, a somewhat bipartisan vote might not be out of reach. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance tax-writing panel, has told reporters that he’s satisfied with the size of the tax part of the bill and that his fellow Republicans support about 90 percent of the measure.
Republicans are particularly irked by a refundable tax credit Obama wants that would include low-income workers who pay no income taxes, but do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Some Republicans also object to aid $87 billion in extra Medicaid aid to the states and would prefer loans.
* Any disgruntled senator could slow down passage of the bill. Democrats who control the chamber could seek to end debate and move to a vote.
* If and when the Senate passes its bill, House and Senate negotiators would then meet to work out differences.
* Democrats hope final votes on one bill would be held by mid-February, with Obama signing it into law promptly.
Compiled by Richard Cowan