Senate gives OK to stimulus bill
WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted final approval Friday to a bill lengthening jobless benefits by 13 weeks and providing business with billions of dollars in tax cuts, sending President Bush a package proponents say will make the economic rebound more vigorous.
"This legislation will add momentum so that we have a more robust economic recovery and return to full prosperity," said Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.
The 85-9 Senate vote came less than 24 hours after the House approved the measure by 417-3. President Bush called the legislation "a very good bill" and promised to sign it into law.
The extension of unemployment benefits would immediately benefit an estimated 1.6 million people who have exhausted their regular 26 weeks of benefits since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The bill allows for additional automatic 13-week extensions in states where the jobless rate tops 4 percent.
A key reason that Republicans and Democrats could reach compromise after five months of gridlock on recession relief is that Monday marks six months since those attacks. In an election year, members of Congress didn't want that day to pass without acting.
"In three days, the people who were laid off in the wake of Sept. 11 will begin exhausting their benefits," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
The level of unemployment benefits varies from state to state but is generally a percentage of a person's prior earnings. Some states also extend benefits on their own.
The biggest business provision is a 30 percent immediate depreciation tax break over the next three years, effectively providing a discount for new investments such as equipment purchases made after Sept. 10, 2001. Manufacturers and high-tech companies are prime beneficiaries of the provision, which will reduce government revenue by $96 billion over the three-year period.
"We think this change will help motivate information technology customers to pull the wraps off their capital spending budgets," said Harris N. Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America.
A 'Liberty Zone'
Companies also will be able to deduct current-year losses from taxes they paid as far back as five years, up from two years under current law. In addition, the measure renews a range of business tax breaks that expired at the end of last year, including credits for wind energy production, companies that hire former welfare recipients and a break for income earned overseas by financial firms.
The bill creates a "Liberty Zone" in the lower Manhattan section of New York in which $5 billion in tax breaks will apply over the next 10 years to help the city recover from the attacks.