Congress can't seem to agree on what to do about an economic stimulus package, which could mire the effort to produce an effective package in time to do some good.
Last week, House leaders on both sides of the aisle agreed with President Bush on a package that would provide refund checks of up to $600 to individual taxpayers, and $1,200 to married couples, with an additional $300 per child. The House passed it Tuesday by an overwhelming margin.
But even before the bill hit the House, prominent Senators said they would try to add extra provisions, over the objections of the President, who insisted in his State of the Union address that the package should not be delayed or derailed.
Bush has waning influence on Capitol Hill, which helps explain why Senate leaders are pushing for a package with tax rebate checks for senior citizens who depend on Social Security along with extensions in unemployment benefits. While these are worthy goals, they are likely to complicate the effort to get the package out the door fast. All sides seem to agree on the need for speed, but the Senate is not about to miss out on its prerogatives. Those could include extras like emergency mortgage counseling to people facing foreclosure and increased spending on infrastructure.
In some ways, the stimulus package is aiming to provide both a shot in the arm for the economy and a boost for homeowners worried about falling house prices, accelerating foreclosure rates and tightening credit markets. As with interest rate cuts, the economy is likely to need several different booster shots to get it healthy again.
It's probably a good idea for Congress to pass whatever deal it can as quickly as possible and worry later about adding extra provisions down the road. The recent long-drawn-out fight over the alternative minimum tax patch shows how getting agreement on legislation can end up keeping taxpayers waiting for relief for far too long.
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