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Bush: No plans to call back Congress on stimulus

President Bush
State of economy will be reassessed when Congress returns, Bush says.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Friday he does not intend to call Congress to resume the stalled negotiations on an economic stimulus bill before lawmakers' scheduled return date in late January, even though congressional leaders had indicated they would be willing to reconvene early.

The state of the economy will have to be reassessed when Congress returns to see what should be done, Bush told reporters at the White House. Asked whether the bill would remain a top priority at that time, Bush said: "We'll see."

When talks broke off this week, it was clear that significant differences remain between Democrats and Republicans on the mix of tax cuts and aid to unemployed workers that would be included in the plan. A last minute bill backed by Bush and passed by the House of Representatives, largely along partisan lines, failed to attract enough Democratic support to be put on the Senate floor.

"I think a lot of people are going to ask the question, why couldn't they get something done," the president said. In an apparent reference to the Senate, he added, "The will to get something done just wasn't there."

Despite the pledges of cooperation after September 11 and weeks of negotiations, Congress' failure to pass an economic stimulus package before its winter recess carried all the markings of the entrenched partisan rivalries that have dogged Capitol Hill for years.

And some already are predicting that partisanship will make a strong comeback next year, as Congress gears up for crucial midterm elections that could tilt the balance of power on Capitol Hill.

The finger-pointing was rampant after it became clear that there would be no economic stimulus bill, even though both parties described the bill issue as key to helping an economy mired in recession. Republicans blamed Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, as an obstructionist. Democrats called House Republicans intransigent.

Asked Thursday why the stimulus bill proved such a stumbling block, Daschle said it was "because economic policy, to a large extent, is what defines our parties."

"I think that there are deep divisions between our two parties when it comes to economic policy," he said. "I think they [Republicans] believe there has to be a tax cut for the common cold."

At the White House, senior administration officials predicted a return to partisan feuding when Congress reconvenes on January 23.

Several House Republicans privately faulted the president for not using his popularity to pressure Daschle and other Democrats more aggressively. A more assertive president, they argued, might have raised the political cost of obstructionism. But administration officials defended Bush's decision not to heighten attacks on Democrats.

For Republicans, the experience has underscored the importance of retaining control of the House, according to senior administration and congressional officials. The White House has already begun plotting strategy with House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, to shore up weak incumbents and devise strategies to make sure all contested races are well financed, those sources said.

Senior White House political strategist Karl Rove also met Thursday at the White House with longtime GOP political operative Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a key player in conservative politics. Norquist said the stimulus debacle showed the White House how tough Democrats are likely to be in the coming election year.

"I think they get it now," Norquist said. "I think they've actually gotten mad over this."

But Democrats are also saying Bush should have done more to get the stimulus talks going. In particular, said Rep. Richard Gephardt, the House minority leader, the president should have put more pressure on conservatives in the House to compromise.

"There was one group that was out of step with what everybody else was trying to do, and that was House Republicans," said Gephardt, D-Missouri.

"If we're going to stay in a bipartisan mode here, it's going to take the president …arguing to the House Republican leadership that they've got to get their people to sit down and negotiate in good faith and get this thing done. And leave all the ideological baggage in the back room," he said.

-- CNN's Manuel Perez-Rivas and Major Garrett contributed to this report.


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