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Lawmakers vow to cooperate on economic stimulus bill

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House and Senate leaders struck a bipartisan note Wednesday after meeting with President Bush at the White House, saying Democrats and Republicans should be able to make progress on crafting an economic stimulus package and a host of other issues.

But the leaders offered little in the way of specifics for how the two sides would bridge their differences.

Lawmakers returned to Washington this week after a monthlong holiday recess that followed a combative session culminating with the Senate's refusal to consider an economic stimulus bill that the GOP-controlled House had passed. Republicans and Democrats had sparred over the tax cuts and health-care benefits as part of that bill.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert
House Speaker Dennis Hastert  

Speaking to reporters after Wednesday's meeting, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, offered mostly optimistic assessments of what could be accomplished this year.

"A new year brings a new opportunity to start over," said Daschle, citing trade, energy, the economy, election reform, prescription drugs, a patients' bill of rights and agriculture as priorities for both sides.

"So on all of those issues, there is a real opportunity for all of us to work together," Daschle said. He acknowledged, however, that differences remain.

Citing a "good conversation" between the president and congressional leaders, Hastert said passing "some type of a stimulus package" needs to be a priority for Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott  

On Tuesday, Daschle wrote Bush, proposing to bring a scaled-back economic stimulus bill to the Senate floor.

Daschle said he wants to bring up a package with four provisions: extending the 26-week unemployment benefit by another 13 weeks; providing payroll tax rebates for those who do not pay income tax and therefore did not receive a check last year; providing tax breaks for businesses by allowing them to accelerate tax deductions for equipment; and providing money to states, most of which are running budget deficits.

The overall cost would be about $69 billion next year, according to a Democratic aide.

Asked about that proposal, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, didn't endorse it outright but described it as a good way to start the debate.

"I'm pleased that it's a focus of our attention," Lott said.

Legislation to stimulate the economy was caught in a partisan stalemate in the Senate at the end of last year.

Republicans dug in on their proposals to accelerate tax cuts passed into law last year and cut corporate minimum taxes.

Democrats held firm in their desire to expand unemployment benefits for part-time and temporary workers who are currently not eligible.

Talks also were stuck over how to administer health benefits to unemployed workers.

Neither Senate Democrats nor Republicans could muster the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster for their own plans, and despite efforts by centrist legislators to find common ground, no compromise was reached.

-- CNN Capitol Hill Producer Dana Bash contributed to this report




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