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Lawmakers agree to weekend work on stimulus bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House and congressional leaders agreed Wednesday that lawmakers negotiating an economic stimulus plan should work through the weekend to cobble together a bill that President Bush can sign.

The agreement came during the weekly breakfast Bush hosts at the White House with bipartisan congressional leadership.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, vowed to keep the Senate in session until a stimulus bill passes.

The bill is among a full slate of legislation that must be completed before Congress adjourns for the year. The long legislative list includes some measures required by law -- including appropriations and authorization bills for the next fiscal year -- as well as competing bills that Republicans and Democrats say are priorities in the wake of a recession and the September 11 terror attacks.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt applauded Daschle's willingness to keep senators working through the weekend, but he expressed doubts that Congress and the White House could resolve deep differences.

"I think it will be hard to get a stimulus bill, but I think we really need to do it," said Gephardt, D-Missouri. "I don't think a stimulus bill will solve all of our economic problems, but I think not doing one would be a negative."

Bush administration keeps up pressure

White House officials expressed reservations about the prospects as well.

"There are some people in Congress who want to make it happen, others who don't," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. "The president hopes those who want to make it happen prevail. This is a real test of the leadership."

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The White House and congressional Democrats are at odds over which taxes to cut and how generous benefits should be to unemployed workers. The White House wants to accelerate rate reductions included in the tax relief bill signed into law this year and eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax to encourage companies to hire more workers and buy new equipment.

In addition, the White House backs extending unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and using state block grants for immediate needs such as health-care costs. Democrats oppose speeding up the Bush tax cut and seek direct federal subsidies to help unemployed workers pay for health insurance.

The president kept pressure on the Democrats when he spoke Tuesday to a gathering of displaced workers in Orlando, Florida, chiding the Senate for failing to move a bill and praising the House for passing one weeks ago.

At Wednesday's breakfast, Bush again warned Democrats against adding new spending to an October budget agreement that calls for $686 billion in overall discretionary spending.

His comments were aimed squarely at the fiscal year 2002 defense spending bill that will soon be brought to the Senate floor -- perhaps by week's end. The Senate Appropriations Committee added several billion dollars to the president's defense request, all for homeland security efforts that Republicans say the government cannot afford.

Fleischer said Bush would not hesitate to veto any bill that exceeds his spending priorities. He "made it as plain as day," the spokesman said.

After returning from the White House, Daschle said Bush's threats to veto the bill would not deter Democrats. "There has been very little discussion or debate about the additional resources needed," he said.

Among the areas lacking proper funding, Daschle argued, were anti-bioterrorism and food safety efforts, aid to local law enforcement agencies, extra security at mail and nuclear facilities, and stepped-up transportation and border security efforts.

Bush has said some new spending may be required but it should be allocated in the following year's budget. The Pentagon must get its current-year resources as soon as possible, Fleischer said.

"The president feels very strongly that at a time when the nation is in the midst of a war that war should not be fought on last year's budget," Fleischer said. "The Pentagon needs additional resources to fight the war. That advance funding should not be complicated or clouded as a result of items that do not pertain to the war on terrorism internationally."

Trade authority legislation, other concerns

Meanwhile, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said it appeared the House would pass fast-track trade authority legislation Thursday. Fast-track trade authority, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, is a procedure in which Congress gives the president authority to negotiate trade agreements or provides special rules for considering those pacts.

"Our vote count is coming along quite well," said Hastert, R-Illinois.

Bush will meet Wednesday with more than a dozen House Republicans and Democrats at the White House to continue the push for fast-track authority.

In a related development, Daschle said Wednesday that the Senate will not consider the trade bill this year, dealing a blow to White House hopes the issue could be resolved soon.

Bush has said trade authority is important to spurring economic growth through exports but also as a diplomatic tool in rewarding partners in the coalition against global terrorism.

But Daschle said the issue was too complex for the Senate to debate and vote on trade legislation this year. He made no commitment on timing for the trade bill in 2002.

Still on the agenda are the last of fiscal year 2002 spending bills, including the contentious defense bill, farm legislation, a bill covering insurance for terrorist attacks and Bush's national energy plan, which the House passed this year.

Democrats plan to introduce a competing energy proposal later Wednesday.

CNN's Major Garrett and Ian Christopher McCaleb contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 



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