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Congress to negotiate economic booster bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Six members of Congress -- three from the House and three from the Senate -- could meet as soon as Tuesday to begin hammering out a compromise on an economic stimulus bill.

That step follows weeks of wrangling that ended Monday when congressional leaders agreed on a procedural framework that will allow negotiators to start talks to reconcile vast differences in legislation to help stimulate the economy.

"I am pleased that we have agreed on a procedure to begin discussions towards achieving an economic security package," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott in a written statement.

"I have full faith that our negotiators will craft a measure that will lead us on a track towards turning the economy around."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said the reason this procedural agreement was necessary was because a stymied Senate failed to pass its own economic stimulus package, while the House approved a $100 billion package made up largely of tax cuts.

"We still have much work to do. The American people care little about procedure, but they care a lot about final results," said Hastert.

President Bush told Congress he wants an economic stimulus bill on his desk by Christmas.

House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-California, had opposed any arrangement that would allow the Senate to later amend an agreement reached by negotiators.

Thomas was pleased with the agreement on the negotiating framework, a spokeswoman said. "His general attitude is 'let's get down and do the work,'" she said.

The parties are divided along traditional philosophical lines.

Democrats believe it is best to assist those affected by the economic downturn through government spending.

Republicans want to give tax breaks to corporations to keep businesses alive and in turn keep Americans employed.

Democrats, who passed their own $75 billion economic recovery package in the Senate Finance Committee last month, are pushing for some tax cut provisions, extension of unemployment benefits and direct federal payments to help those out of work with health care costs.

Republicans want to give money for health care directly to governors to let them decide how best to administer the funds.

Democrats say the most contentious debates will be over a Republican plan to do away with the alternative minimum tax on corporations and a Republican measure that accelerates the income tax rate cuts enacted last spring.

-- CNN's Dana Bash, Kate Snow and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.


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