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Super Tuesday forces delay of stimulus vote

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  • NEW: Majority leader says he'll delay action until presidential candidates can vote
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Senate vote on an economic stimulus package must wait until next week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday, allowing senators on the campaign trail to return to Washington.

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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, left, and Sen. Charles Grassley back the stimulus bill.

Reid said a vote on a highly disputed foreign intelligence bill would also be pushed back.

The delay will allow Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain to participate in the votes, Reid said on the Senate floor.

"I still have two Democratic senators [running for president]," Reid said. "As you know, next Tuesday is Super Tuesday, and they're both very busy, as is Sen. McCain. So I probably can't get them back here until Monday, but I do need them back.

Super Tuesday, February 5, is when nearly two dozen states will hold primaries or caucuses, including California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

"The Republican leader understands that, and we'll try to work something out today to give us a pathway to complete the stimulus package and FISA," Reid said.

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FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was amended to broaden the government's ability to monitor communications -- including messages to someone within the United States -- involving terror suspects without a warrant when the suspects are believed to be overseas. The controversial revised act expires Friday, but Congress passed a 15-day extension Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee passed a stimulus package that would inject close to $200 billion into the economy over two years in an attempt to stave off recession.

When the Senate convenes to consider the stimulus package next week, it will vote whether to proceed with the committee bill or the $161 billion House version of the stimulus package that passed Tuesday.

The centerpiece of the House bill was a plan to send tax rebate checks up to $600 to individuals and $1,200 to couples.

Aides on both sides of the aisle predicted the committee bill will not receive the 60 votes required by Senate rules to proceed and that the Senate will work within the framework of the House bill.

The Senate is also expected to vote on a package of Democratic priorities, including an extension of unemployment insurance benefits and an increase in funding for food stamps, food banks and a summer youth jobs program. Aides, however, said the Democratic package is also unlikely to get the 60-vote minimum.

Aides predicted two amendments to the House bill would pass: an increase in funding for the low-income home energy assistance program and language that provides rebates for low-income Social Security recipients and disabled veterans.

Once amended, aides said they believed senators would pass the House version of the bill.

The final package would likely contain the income caps passed by the House, aides predicted. That would mean individuals earning more than $75,000 and couples making $150,000 would not be eligible for a rebate. The version passed by the Senate Finance Committee doubled those limits.

If any changes are made to the House-passed bill in the Senate, then either the Senate and House versions would have to go to a conference committee to reconcile them, or the House might try to pass the Senate language and avoid a conference.

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Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Thursday urged the Senate to pass the House bill as soon as possible.

"I'm concerned that the bill that has come out of the Senate Finance Committee is already too complex, and once it gets to the Senate floor it's in danger of looking like a Christmas tree," he told reporters before Reid's plan was announced. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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