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Economic stimulus bills hit the wall in Senate

Senators approve extension of unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic and Republican proposals to stimulate the nation's economy were both blocked in the Senate on Wednesday, but senators agreed to a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits to aid laid-off workers.

Neither of the two bills was able to muster support from 60 senators, the minimum level of backing required to force a final vote on legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who earlier said he would shelve the stimulus legislation if it failed to get the required support, followed through on his promise and moved on to other matters.

The Democratic bill won support from 56 senators, four votes short. The Republican bill, which relied more heavily on tax cuts in its mix of proposals aimed at stimulating the economy, got support from 48 senators.

When both bills had been set back, Daschle asked for and received unanimous consent by a voice vote to approve the 13-week unemployment benefit extension. Currently, unemployment benefits are limited to 26 weeks.

Daschle urged the GOP-controlled House to immediately take up the extension, which the White House has indicated it will support.

"It's now up to the House to do their part so that these people will be a little more confident that they will be given some assistance now," Daschle said.

Earlier Wednesday morning, Daschle told reporters that the legislation had been given plenty of time and yet compromise could not be reached between both parties. The same partisan divisions were evident as both bills were brought up for the procedural vote.

"This has been around a long, long time. People have had the opportunity to offer amendments last year, this year," Daschle told reporters. "Once again, we're right back to where we started. I think we've given it plenty of time."

The appetite for legislation to stimulate the economy, however, has waned among both Democrats and Republicans since last year as economic figures look more promising.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress two weeks ago that the time for stimulus legislation had come and gone.

The economic stimulus legislation has been floundering in Congress since it was proposed last September. While the GOP-controlled House passed a stimulus bill, it could never get past the gridlocked Senate, in which Democrats hold a slim one-vote majority.

The Senate returned to the issue following its winter recess three weeks ago, when the Democrats offered what they called a "consensus" package with four provisions they said both sides agreed upon.

Republicans said the Democrats' package, which does not include any acceleration of the $1.35 trillion tax cut passed last year, would not do enough to stimulate the economy.

Even before Daschle announced his move, senior White House aides could smell defeat.

"Whether a rabbit can be pulled out of a hat, I don't know, but the odds are against that," one official said.

-- CNN Capitol Hill producer Dana Bash contributed to this report.




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