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Daschle optimistic on stimulus bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Sunday he believes the Senate will pass an economic stimulus bill, despite rifts between Republicans and Democrats.

"I think we'll have an economic stimulus bill," Daschle said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But, Daschle said, Republicans in the House and Senate will have to give a bit of territory so the stalled bill can reach President Bush's desk.

"We're not intending to hold anything up ... we are intending to have a very good debate," he said.

"We have done everything I know to do to bring the Republicans to the table and negotiate an economic stimulus bill," the South Dakota Democrat said.

"We have changed our proposals, we have offered many different procedural routes to accomplish what we both say we want, but at least for now their answer seems to be 'no.'"

Bush used his weekly radio address Saturday to prod lawmakers to end their weeks of feuding over what form the package should take.

Democrats responded by accusing Republicans of "playing politics" with the stimulus package.

In the follow-up Democratic response to the president's address, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the stimulus package approved by 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.

Progress on the package halted in the Senate last week as Democrats pushed for funds to extend unemployment and health care benefits for workers who have lost jobs during the economic downturn.

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Senate Republicans, meanwhile, pushed for more tax cuts, such as a one-month Social Security "payroll tax holiday" for employers and employees, and tax cuts for businesses.

Senate talks with House leaders last week produced tentative plans to allow proceedings to move straight to conference committee, but an agreement stayed out of reach as the upper chamber adjourned for the weekend.

In his radio address, Bush cited last week's announcement by economists that the U.S. economy has been in recession since March. He said the economic impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks has only added to the sense of 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 plan the president proposed in October 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 with job training, find work and continue their health insurance.

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

"It's a fallacious approach to the stimulus bill to accelerate the tax cuts that were passed last year," Daschle argued Sunday.

He said the administration's plan to drop or alter the so-called alternative minimum tax also favored corporations when many of them don't need the help.

"Why help IBM and Ford get relief when they have cash on hand?" he said.

The president praised the House Saturday for responding "swiftly" to the terror attacks by passing a stimulus bill. But, he said, "I'm still waiting for a bill to sign."

Daschle said Senate Democrats want to be sure the growing ranks of unemployed receive better attention before they sign off on a bill.

"Everything can be on the table at the beginning, but what Democrats truly want is to make sure that the unemployed people of this country get help. They need unemployment insurance, they need health care those are the kind of benefits we want," he said.

The majority leader steered clear of criticizing Bush. "The president and I have worked as closely together as I have worked with anybody in the last several years," Daschle said.

The obstructionists were some Republican factions in the House, he said, many of whom were not willing to negotiate. House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Whip Tom DeLay, both of Texas, accused Daschle last week of intentionally holding up the process.

"I've seen very little evidence that Republicans in the House are willing to come to the middle," Daschle said.


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