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KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush went to the Capitol himself this morning to try to jumpstart negotiations on economic stimulus legislation. House Republicans had been working on a revamped package to replace the stimulus bill they passed more than a month ago. At 9:00, the President introduced the new proposal and embraced it.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I am proud to report that members of both political parties and both bodies of Congress have come to an agreement as to how to stimulate our economy and how to take care of people in need, people who have lost their job. I’m proud of the members around this table for making the conscious decision to work together to answer some serious needs that face our country.
KWAME HOLMAN: With three Senate democratic moderates at his side, the President suggested the plan could be the breakthrough in partisan maneuvering over stimulus that’s lasted for eight weeks.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This bill can pass both…both bodies. This bill will pass the House. It’s got enough votes to pass the Senate, and therefore I look forward to working with both bodies in any way I can to convince those who are reluctant to get a bill done that this makes sense for America. So we can leave for Christmas knowing full well that we’ve done the people’s business.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, moments later in another Capitol room, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle again warned passing a stimulus plan will require a super majority in the nearly 50- 50 Senate.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Any deal is going to require 60 votes, and I don’t know of a deal yet that has 60 votes. Regrettably, that is why a few weeks ago, if you’ll recall, I said that any kind of a deal would have to have about two- thirds of support in either caucus in order to overcome the parliamentary or procedural hurdles that exist on the Senate floor, and that’s just as true today as it was back then. I don’t know what the bill entails, so I can’t comment on the specifics until I’ve seen it. If we can’t help workers, if we can’t help their families, if we are going to be providing more and more help to the largest corporations at the expense of those families, that’s a bad deal.
KWAME HOLMAN: And outside the Capitol, even Republican leaders themselves seemed less than certain their new proposal would be the final word on economic stimulus.
REP. J.C. WATTS: I don’t know what more we can do. We — in the House we passed an economic security bill back in the middle of October. The Senate leadership has yet to respond to that. You’ll probably see us pass another economic security package this afternoon and I have no optimism that… I’m totally discouraged that Mr. Daschle’s going to move that one.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Republican- controlled House passed its original stimulus bill in late October, with only three Democratic votes. Among other provisions, the $110 billion plan called for tax rebates for low-income workers who didn’t qualify for them last spring; extended unemployment benefits; subsidies for health insurance premiums for the unemployed. But the bulk of the bill went to business tax breaks, including repealing the corporate alternative minimum tax, which limits corporate tax deductions. Last month, Senate Democrats tried to move their own version of economic stimulus that favored more help for the unemployed and far fewer business tax breaks. Senate Republicans blocked it from being considered.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: At this point, while we’re on the bill, I might say, Mr. President, that neither side has enough votes to pass the bill. The Senator from Texas correctly said that you might as well get negotiations and get to the heart of the matter, because the current bill probably does not have the sufficient 60 votes to get it passed here on the Senate floor.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile on the House floor today, hours passed and the Republicans’ revamped economic stimulus never appeared.
SPOKESPERSON: HR-2199 …An act to amend the national capital revitalization.
KWAME HOLMAN: Reportedly, Republican leaders were trying to round up Democratic votes for their new plan before bringing it to a vote, perhaps later tonight. The main problem seems to be Democrats want to enhance a program that helps laid-off workers keep their health insurance; Republicans want to them a tax credit instead. Late this afternoon Senator Daschle appeared again, this time to announce another piece of legislation, the farm bill, will be put off until next year because of partisan differences. He came close to predicting the same fate for an economic stimulus package.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I think what they would like is for you to write that they passed something and the Senate hasn’t, and that they will attempt to portray that as an effort to defeat economic stimulus.
KWAME HOLMAN: Congress is scheduled to adjourn at the end of the week and return in late January.