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Congress looks to shield economy



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Fearing an economic crisis, members of Congress talked Saturday about how to bolster consumer confidence and keep U.S. financial markets from tumbling when they reopen Monday after being closed for almost a week.

House Democrats huddled around a conference table in a rare Saturday meeting inside the Capitol to discuss what Congress could do to help the economy.

Several members talked about "a new world" and the need to find solutions together with Republicans.

"We're the leaders and we've got to lead. And you lead by example. And you lead by working with people that we haven't worked so well with together in the past," House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, told the gathering.

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Gephardt said he was concerned not only about the airline industry but about the insurance industry and consumer confidence. He mentioned New York City cab drivers as "the ultimate small business" in danger of going under.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-California, suggested Congress and the nation should view Thanksgiving Day as a "benchmark for success" with the goal of restoring consumer confidence by that date.

"We've got to give people confidence to go back out and go to work, buy things, go back to the stores -- get ready for Thanksgiving, get ready for Christmas," Gephardt said. "Get out and be active, participate in our society."

Republicans have echoed those sentiments.

House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Bill Thomas, R-California, has quietly been working on a Republican economic stimulus plan -- including tax breaks for businesses.

On the face of it, Republicans and Democrats may not have exactly the same agenda. The centerpiece of Thomas' plan is a reduction in the capital gains tax, meant to jump-start the economy. But Democrats say that's not their No. 1 priority. Instead, Gephardt said, they would favor sending taxpayers a larger tax rebate check than the one they've already received or perhaps giving a tax credit for part of the money Americans have already paid in payroll taxes.

At the Saturday meeting, Democrats talked about thinking "outside the box."

"We start from scratch, " said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Michigan. "Everything has to be on the table."

The House and Senate will not meet formally again until next Thursday in observance of the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana. Levin stressed the need to signal to Wall Street that Congress is still hard at work.

"You ought to tell the Republicans we're working," Levin told Gephardt. "We understand everybody can't be here, but we're working ... I want to emphasize, we've got to relate that to the airline industry."







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