Administration cranks up sales pitch for stimulus bill
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a move meant to put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the White House and House Republican leaders are trying to write a new economic stimulus bill that would pass the House and would have the backing of some key Senate Democrats.
At a Monday meeting of lawmakers who have been negotiating a stimulus bill for weeks there was a new face at the table-- Democratic Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana.
The Bush Administration has tapped Breaux as its "point man" to pull enough Senate Democrats on board with a new bill that it might stand a chance of passing the Senate. Breaux got a personal phone call from the president on Sunday.
After the meeting, Breaux said he would have to take the latest plan back to his moderate colleagues.
"If they pass a bill close to what we support as a centrist group that obviously makes it more do-able over here (in the Senate)," Breaux said. "If they pass a 'Republican-only' bill, then nothing happens."
Democratic support is crucial. The House has already passed one version of an economic stimulus bill and the Senate was unable to find enough support to take up a Democratic version backed by Daschle. House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-California, indicated he would not push a new bill through the House unless enough Democrats had signed on.
"It doesn't make a lot of sense to me... to send a bill over that doesn't have a high enough assurance as you can get in this business -- that you would have sufficient enough number of Democrats to get a bill to the President's desk," Thomas said.
Vouchers or assistance?
One issue separating most Democrats and Republicans is health insurance for unemployed workers.
Breaux agrees with the White House and Republicans that unemployed workers should be able to pick up a voucher at their local unemployment office. That voucher would be used toward purchasing health insurance and would count as a tax credit on their tax returns.
Democrats prefer providing assistance to a person's former employer or insurance company. For those who didn't have health insurance to begin with, Democrats would assist states in providing coverage through the Medicaid program.
The two sides aren't that far apart, said Breaux, who suggested that some of his colleagues ought to be more willing to back down from entrenched positions.
"Look, if you can get 70 percent of what you want and don't get 30, take the 70 percent, put it in your pocket and blame the other side for not giving you the other 30 percent and live to fight another day," he said.
Democratic and Republican aides said a weekly breakfast meeting Tuesday morning at the White House would be crucial in determining the next step and whether Congress would pass a stimulus bill before taking a holiday recess.
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