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In rare agreement, Congress OKs rebate checks

Package will give most US households $300 to $1,200 apiece, plus an extra $300 per child.

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After two weeks of intense negotiation, Congress rallied bipartisan votes to pass a $152 billion stimulus plan to jolt a sluggish economy.

The plan aims to get rebate checks to more than 130 million American families, to increase investment tax breaks, and to expand refinancing opportunities in the housing market. It passed the Senate by a vote of 81 to 16 on Thursday and, just hours later, by a House vote of 380 to 34.

"This economic-growth package is an example of bipartisan cooperation at a time when the American people most expect it," said President Bush in a statement after the final House vote.

This rare surge of bipartisanship followed close consultation among congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson – and a full-court press from lobbyists and constituents eager to know when their check would be in the mail. (Answer: Taxpayers who file their 2007 tax returns on time can expect checks as early as May.)

At the heart of the deal are hundreds of dollars in "recovery rebate" checks to consumers and tax breaks to businesses. To qualify for rebate checks, individuals have to be legal residents of the United States and earn at least $3,000, including Social Security income and veterans' disability payments. Checks range from $300 to $600 for individuals and $600 to $1,200 for married couples, plus an additional $300 for each child.

Two key compromises paved the way for the agreement: A House deal that expanded eligibility for rebate checks to lower income groups and a Senate deal that added seniors and disabled veterans, while drawing the line on adding anything else.

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