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Bush, Democrats face off on economic stimulus

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Saturday urged Congress to end weeks of delays and quickly approve a stimulus bill to help revive the nation's struggling economy, using his weekly radio address to pressure lawmakers who have been feuding over what form the package should take.

Meanwhile, Democrats responded by accusing Republicans of "playing politics" with the stimulus package. In the Democratic weekly radio address, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the stimulus package approved in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives provided huge tax cuts for big business but does "virtually nothing" to help workers laid off because of the weak economy.

The package has been stalled in the Senate, where Democrats are pushing for funds to extend unemployment and health care benefits for workers who have lost jobs during the economic downturn that began last year. Republicans are pushing for more tax cuts, such as one month Social Security payroll tax holiday and tax cuts for businesses.

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In his radio address, Bush cited this week's announcement by economists that the U.S. economy has been in recession since March and the economic impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks as reasons to act with urgency.

"There are two immediate priorities for America's recovery," Bush said. "We must bring quick help to those who need it most, and we must restore our economy's growth.

"It's the holiday season. It's a time to reach out to Americans who are hurting, to help them put food on the table and to keep a roof over their heads."

The Democrat-controlled Senate and the House have been negotiating to reach agreement on a bill to send to the president, who proposed his own plan in October to provide assistance to those who lost their jobs in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

That plan, Bush said, would extend by 13 weeks unemployment compensation in states hit hardest by terrorism; help states offer Medicaid to uninsured workers and their families; and offer emergency grants to help displaced workers get job training, find work and continue their health insurance.

Yet Bush is also pushing a set of tax cuts for individuals and for businesses in order to help spur job growth. "In the long run, the right answer to unemployment is to create more jobs," he said.

The president praised the House for responding "swiftly" by passing a stimulus bill. But, in a reference to the Senate, he said: "I'm still waiting for a bill to sign."

Yet Reid, speaking for the Democrats, cautioned against running up the national debt "with risky, unfair tax measures that won't help the economy recover." He said the focus should be on helping workers.

"Extending unemployment benefits is not only the right thing to do -- it's also the single best thing we can do to help our economy. Unemployed workers need that money -- to buy groceries, pay the rent, and keep the lights and heat on this winter," Reid said.

Bush -- who is spending the weekend at Camp David and attended the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia on Saturday -- urged both sides to come to an agreement soon.

"After September 11, my administration and the Congress made a conscious decision to show the terrorists we could work together," he said. "We've done that. And now we need to do it again by helping dislocated workers and spurring economic growth."


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