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Tempers flare among GOP over stimulus bill

From Jonathan Karl
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A meeting of GOP stalwarts degenerated into a shouting match between two of the party's most visible leaders Wednesday night, according to several sources, the latest indication of growing tensions between House and Senate Republicans.

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The blowup occurred at a closed-door meeting attended by House and Senate GOP Republicans and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

After House Republican leaders objected to planned negotiations with Senate Democrats on the economic stimulus bill, an exasperated Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi accused his House counterparts of not wanting a bill.

Lott's statement set off a red-faced tirade from House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, sources at the meeting said.

"Armey went berserk," said one GOP source. "He banged his fist on the table, stood up and said, 'You can't say we don't want a bill. We've already passed a bill.'"

Armey spokesman Terry Holt said Armey didn't go "berserk" but simply "felt strongly and expressed his opinion strongly." Holt also said the heated exchange left no long-term bad feelings.

"Mr. Armey and Mr. Lott are longtime friends and allies, and they will always work hard together on the issues facing Congress," Holt said.

Lott's office wouldn't comment publicly on the exchange.

The House narrowly passed a stimulus bill of $100 billion in tax cuts last month, but the Senate has been deadlocked on the issue. Senate Democrats adamantly oppose the House bill.

According to another source at the meeting, Armey lambasted the Senate for failing pass a bill. "Dick stepped up and said, 'Look, we passed a bill! We passed a good bill!'"

Armey's outburst prompted Lott to storm out of the meeting, several sources said.

For now, the bill remains stalled in the Senate, with various parties failing yet to even agree on ground rules for negotiations.

In multiple meetings this week, O'Neill told congressional Republicans they could pay the price at the polls if they do not pass an economic stimulus bill soon.

"O'Neill has been saying that to do something to help the economy by the second quarter of next year, you've got to act now. And the second quarter data is what you are going to run on," said a House GOP aide.


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