Bush pushes economic package; Democrats dubious
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush worked the phones Tuesday, trying to corral support among moderate Senate Democrats for his economic stimulus bill as the hours ticked down toward a congressional holiday.
The White House sought to boost Democratic support for an compromise stimulus bill emerging from the House. It would provide business and individual tax cuts, extend unemployment insurance and provide immediate and refundable tax credits for the unemployed to purchase health insurance.
The president kept his schedule open Tuesday so he could lobby lawmakers. and set aside time late that afternoon to invite Democrats to the White House to discuss the stimulus package.
Bush also met over coffee earlier in the day with the Senate's majority and minority leaders, Sens. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi. Joining them were House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri.
"There is a desire to keep talking and find a way around this impasse," Daschle said later in the day. " I think the five people in the room all expressed a desire to keep talking, and that is what we're doing."
Looking for support
Those five weren't the only ones talking. Some Republicans accused Daschle of deliberately obstructing progress on the stimulus package.
"Sen. Daschle has just said 'no,'" said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania. "He has repeatedly said 'no, no, no' to a bill that has bipartisan support, that the president has asked for time and time again, and that the American people overwhelmingly support."
So far, the White House has won the support of Senate Democrats John Breaux of Louisiana, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. White House officials said Bush planned to contact and try to recruit Democratic Sens. Max Cleland of Georgia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, senior White House officials said.
The White House needs 60 Senate votes to make sure Democrats cannot block the bill. It has 53 or 54 votes. Getting the required 60 votes may be insurmountable lawmakers say, but the White House hopes constructing a 56- or 57-vote majority could force Daschle to compromise.
Daschle hardly sounded in a compromising mood Tuesday afternoon.
"(They are going to) send another stimulus bill over here and jam us?" Daschle said. "Well, that isn't going to work. You need 60 votes to get something done here. The only way we are going to get something done, to ensure success in the next 72 hours, is to help ... laid-off workers."
Same trouble spots
The sticking points are the same: how much to accelerate the Bush tax cut passed earlier this year, and how to provide health insurance aid to the unemployed.
The White House wants the 27 percent income tax rate, scheduled to commence next year, lowered to 25 percent. Democrats have offered 26 percent. The White House wants to provide tax credits to help jobless people pay for new health insurance to cover that which they lost when they were laid off. Daschle wants direct federal subsidies to pay for health insurance premiums.
Democrats also have been critical of Republican proposals to provide corporate relief from the alternative minimum tax.
The president wants a bill approved -- and soon, said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
"From the president's point-of-view, it simply remains too important an issue for Congress not to get the job done and complete," Fleischer said at his daily briefing. "The president believes that there are too many in America who are unemployed, and too many people who risk being unemployed if Congress doesn't take action."
-- CNN White House Correspondent Major Garrett, Senior White House Correspondent John King, and Ian Christopher McCaleb contributed to this report.
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