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2008 Tax Stimulus Package: Senate & House Differences

If you’ve been following the latest on the economic stimulus package [3] (or tax stimulus package), you’ve probably learned that we’re all waiting on the Senate to approve a bill that is similarly worded to the House’s H.R. 5140, the Recovery Rebates and Economic Stimulus for the American People Act of 2008 (great bill name!). Rather than outline the Senate version and assume you’ll be able to tell the difference, let me just explain the differences.

Incidentally, the latest news is that Senate Democrats can’t get the 60 votes necessary to move past debate (a step known as cloture) on the bill they’ve outlined so a vote will likely have to wait until next week – if ever. If things stall, they will accept the House version.

Latest news is that the Senate has passed its version of the bill, explained below!

Biggest Differences:

The biggest difference is in how the rebate amount would be determined. In the Senate version, individuals would get $500, couples would get $1,000, plus $300 per child with no income cap. The House version was $600 to individuals, $1,200 to couples, plus $300 per child but included caps at $75k for singles and $150k for couples. The removal of a cap also means that two large categories overlooked by the House’s plan would now get a tax rebate: retirees living on Social Security (~20M) and veterans dependent on government benefits (~250k). Those two groups are left out of the House plan because they didn’t meet the income tax paying qualifications.

Some other differences are that the Senate version would extend unemployment benefits an additional 13 weeks beyond the current limit of 26 weeks (something House Democrats tried to get but dropped in negotiations) and it would drop the increase on the dollar limit of conforming mortgages insured by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (This was ultimately removed from the bill the finally passed the Senate)

There’s been talk about how if the Senate isn’t able to reach an agreement soon, that they’ll defer to the House’s bill. I personally think that including retirees and veterans, those missed by the House version, is crucial but the lack of a cap starts giving a money to folks who don’t really need it. While this is about stimulating the economy, I think a greater percentage of the stimulus would get spent if it were given to those on the lower end of the earning spectrum.