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Congress remains stalled on bill to boost economy

By Manuel Perez-Rivas
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Partisan feuding over an economic stimulus bill continued Friday, with leaders from the House and the Senate still mired in procedural details as new government numbers show the economy performing even more poorly than previously thought.

Direct negotiations between Republican and Democratic leaders were stalled, as both sides were still trying to iron out the procedural details. Yet even as leaders from both parties expressed concern that an agreement is needed soon, they continued to blame each other for the lack of progress.

"Some of the things I've heard from the Democrats make me wonder if they really are serious about getting a stimulus package," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, told reporters. "Sometimes, when you look at what they say, it seems to me that the Democrats think a recession is bad for the country, but good for them politically."

A short time later, in his meeting with reporters, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Democrats have made some concessions in recent days, hoping to get the talks going, and have been snubbed by Republicans every time.

"Everybody has to give. We understand that. I hope they understand that. The less time there is, the more give there has to be, it seems to me," Daschle said.

"Show me where they have come back with anything that would indicate that they want to get an economic security package passed. I haven't seen anything. They just keep saying no. And then they blame us for the fact that we haven't gotten it done, which is not an acceptable way to proceed," he added.

The delay comes on the heels of this week's announcement by the National Bureau of Economic Research that the weak U.S. economy had slipped into a recession this year, and predictions by the White House budget director that the federal budget faces deficits for the next few years.

And Friday, the Commerce Department said the economy in the third quarter this year posted its weakest showing since the last recession, 10 years ago.

Bush urges action

President Bush has been urging Congress to reach an agreement and pass the stimulus package. On Wednesday, speaking before a farmers group, Bush noted that 415,000 U.S. jobs have been lost since he asked Congress in early October to approve a package. "Further delay could put more Americans and more families at risk," he said.

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer reiterated the president's wish for a quick resolution to the stimulus bill.

"The president is worried about whether or not the Senate will take action to help get the economy out of recession. And the president just cannot imagine that the Senate would leave town without getting the people's business complete," Fleischer said, alluding to new data showing the U.S. economy shrank at a faster pace in the third quarter than initially thought, posting its weakest numbers in 10 years.

"The president clearly, when it comes to the stimulus particularly, is calling on the Senate to do more and to do more quickly," he said.

Sharp differences

The House already has passed a Republican-backed, $100 billion stimulus package that includes substantial tax cuts. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate remain sharply divided on the issue.

Even once the procedural issues are ironed out, deep differences remain between the Democrats and Republicans as to what the substance of the package should include. And any Senate bill will have to be reconciled with the bill passed by the House, which is strongly opposed by many Democrats.

Republicans are pushing to keep a robust dose of tax cuts in the final package, with a variety of proposals being discussed, such as a payroll tax holiday, an accelerated reduction in income tax rates, and repealing the corporate alternative minimum tax.

Democrats, meanwhile, have said they will support some tax cuts, but they argue that any stimulus bill must significantly expand unemployment compensation and health benefits for workers who have lost jobs during the economic slump.


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