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Stalemate continues on economic stimulus bill

Sen. Tom Daschle
Sen. Tom Daschle  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The stalemate between Democrats and Republicans on legislation to help move the slumping U.S. economy out of recession continued Friday, despite signs of possible movement just a few days earlier.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Friday morning that deep differences still remain between the two sides.

In particular, he cited differing views on such matters as health care insurance for unemployed workers and on the size and scope of tax relief. Democrats have especially balked at a GOP bid to end the alternative minimum tax, a move that would provide a tax break for big business.

Daschle, D-South Dakota, spoke to reporters shortly after negotiations resumed on Friday, but he said little progress had been made the day before.

"It's probably accurate to say that there wasn't a whole lot of progress yesterday," he said. "I don't really know that in any particular area of negotiations there was any breakthrough."

In a bid to revive prospects for a bill, President Bush made a round of phone calls on Thursday to moderate Senate Democrats to try to convince them to back his compromise proposal so that a bill might be approved before Congress leaves town for the upcoming holidays.

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer questioned the Senate's inability to get a bill passed. He noted that the House passed its version of economic stimulus legislation -- one that consisted heavily of tax breaks for businesses as a way of promoting job growth -- 52 days ago. Democrats have pushed for more aid for unemployed workers and a smaller tax relief package.

"The House has been able to act, so it's hard to understand why the Senate has not been able to act," Fleischer said in a White House briefing. "The president has not given up hope and he is working hard to get it done."

Fleischer said there is support for the president's plan, but that it's up to the Senate's Democratic leadership to act.

"The president this week made a major effort to break the logjam, and as a result there clearly are a majority of Democrat and Republican senators ready, willing and able to vote for a stimulus package. It's just a question of whether the Senate leadership will allow that to take place," he said.

Still, even some Democrats who have said they could go along with the Bush compromise were skeptical that it could be finished before Congress leaves for the break.

"It's not over until it's over, but it's almost," said Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, one of those centrists, who added, "it would take a Christmas miracle" to get an agreement before the recess.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said Thursday that the House may take up the White House-backed compromise next Tuesday -- even though it passed the earlier version of the economic stimulus.

Anything that passes the House, however, would die unless Bush can convince enough Democrats to back his compromise. For procedural reasons, Republicans need 60 votes -- and therefore at least 11 Democrats -- to pass the bill in the Senate.

Daschle reacted coolly to the idea that the House would take up another economic stimulus bill next week.

"That would be very counterproductive. That would not help. We would not get anything done that way," Daschle said Friday. "It would be nothing more than a political ploy."


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