By JILLIAN JORGENSEN
Special to the Union Leader
Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009
WASHINGTON – In an effort to turn around the nation’s struggling economy, the Senate passed its version of the $838 billion economic stimulus package yesterday, while Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner announced plans for a new financial bailout program to rescue troubled banking institutions.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., voted for the stimulus bill, which passed 61-37; only three Republicans voted for it.
“I’ve said from the very beginning of this process that our top priority in getting our economy back on track must be to create and save jobs, and I believe the recovery package we have passed today achieves that goal,” Shaheen said in a statement.
Now the Senate and House, which passed its version of the stimulus package last month, must negotiate an agreement on what the final bill will include.
The Senate stimulus package would cost $838 billion; the House version would cost $820 billion.
The Senate bill added a $70 billion “patch,” which the House version did not include, to spare millions of taxpayers from having to pay the alternative minimum tax. It also includes $11 billion in tax deductions for loans on new car purchases and a yearlong $15,000 tax credit for people purchasing homes, as opposed to the House-passed $7,500 credit, which would last only until June and apply only to first-time buyers.
Shaheen, who voted for the amendment providing for the housing tax credit, said that problems in the housing market and the “financial collapse of lending” were at the core of the current economic situation.
“Obviously, we’ve got to address the housing market and we’ve got to address lending in order to be successful at what we’re doing,” Shaheen said in the Capitol after the vote. “I think this is something that we’ve got to work on, and I’m committed to doing that. And hopefully we will see a package come out of the committee of conference that will provide some relief to homeowners.”
But U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., said the stimulus package will come down to “a question of balance,” and homeowner help will have to be balanced against other areas that need money.
The Senate’s tax credit for home buyers, he said, is “a greatly expanded program, with a vastly increased cost.”
He said there were “certainly arguments to be made for spending a lot of money in the housing sector” but he warned that if too much money is spent there, other areas will be left wanting.
“You take away the ability, for example, to help states who are facing cuts to essential services,” he said. “It would be wonderful to do everything for everyone, and that simply won’t happen.”
Hodes said one way to “bridge the gap” between the two versions was to remove the Senate’s alternative minimum tax patch from the stimulus plan, with the understanding that it would be passed later. That would free up $70 billion stimulus money to be spent elsewhere, Hodes said.
Carol Shea-Porter, D-.N.H., said in a statement: “The House and Senate still need to work out the differences between the two bills, but I am hopeful that we will get money to the states and into our economy very soon.”
Jillian Jorgensen is an intern with the Boston Washington University News Service.