- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

President Bush struck a bipartisan deal at the Capitol yesterday to revive the economy and aid the unemployed, but Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle refused to allow a vote on the bill.
The House moved last night toward passing the measure, which would pump $110 billion into the economy in the first year.
"There's something more important than politics, and that's to do our jobs, to recognize that we have a serious problem and address it and solve the problem," Mr. Bush said after concluding talks with Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate in the office of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.
Mr. Bush said the Senate had enough votes to approve the plan, and senators agreed the bill would receive at least 53 votes. But Mr. Daschle said he would not allow the Senate to vote on the bill, largely because it did not create a federal entitlement for the unemployed to receive health-insurance coverage.
"It would not be my intention to bring it up, because it doesn't represent the kind of compromise that we have hoped to achieve here," said Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Republicans countered that the bipartisan plan would provide health insurance for more unemployed workers than the Senate Democrats' proposal, and would do it more quickly. The bill supported by Mr. Bush would provide $13 billion over two years in tax credits to allow the unemployed to pay up to 60 percent of the premiums of any health care plan.
"This is the largest change in social policy for dislocated workers since unemployment compensation was passed in the 1930s," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. "We will help more people, at $2 billion less, than [Mr. Daschle] would if he did it his way."
But many Democrats were not convinced. Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York said of the latest offer, "Calling it 'health insurance' is like putting lipstick on a pig."
The impasse made it all but certain that Congress would adjourn for the year without approving a bill to help reverse the recession and to aid the 1 million workers who had lost their jobs since September 11.
The White House said the blame lies squarely with Mr. Daschle and his Democratic allies.
"This agreement was reached by the president, the Republican congressional leaders and the centrists, in both the House and in the Senate," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "The president will be delighted if Senator Daschle would sign on. The president would be delighted if Senator Daschle would have even just allowed it to come to a vote."
Mr. Daschle said Republicans have refused "to negotiate seriously" about unemployment benefits while Democrats have made concessions on tax cuts. He said the package on the table would fail to gain the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to defeat a Democratic filibuster.
"I don't want to get into a protracted debate about economic stimulus that is going nowhere in large measure because it doesn't have the votes," Mr. Daschle said.
As majority leader, Mr. Daschle controls which bills are brought up for votes in the Senate. Ronald Bonjean, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, said Senate Republicans will call "repeatedly" for a vote on the bill today.
After weeks of partisan gridlock on a Senate bill, Mr. Bush joined forces with three Senate Democrats on the new plan: Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Zell Miller of Georgia.
When Mr. Hastert thanked Mr. Breaux yesterday for supporting a bill that his party leader opposed, Mr. Breaux replied, "It's not easy being easy."
Mr. Bush's decision to lobby for a bill personally at the Capitol was intended in part to ratchet up pressure on Mr. Daschle and isolate the Senate majority leader, who had been branded an "obstructionist" by Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
The president also paid a visit for the first time to the House Democrats' weekly meeting, where he received a standing ovation. He thanked Democrats "for helping to unite our country" in the war against terrorism.
"There is no Democratic or Republican victory," Mr. Bush told them. "There will be an American victory."
The president also singled out House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, calling him "a man I've come to admire and respect tremendously."
Mr. Bush also visited with House and Senate Republicans, but not with Senate Democrats.
"I look forward to working with both bodies in any way I can to convince those who are reluctant to get a bill done that this makes sense for America, so we can leave for Christmas knowing full well that we've done the people's business," he added.
Mr. Daschle wants the federal government to pay a 75 percent subsidy for health-insurance coverage for many workers who qualify after losing their jobs. The money would go to the employer; Republicans propose a voucher that would go directly to the unemployed person.
For laid-off workers who did not have health insurance on the job, Democrats wanted to expand coverage under Medicaid.
"Virtually all of those who are unemployed cannot access health care, either because of cost or because they are not capable of getting health care," Mr. Daschle said. "And we want to fix that."
The House bill provided 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits for those laid off since the recession began in March. It also would give rebates of up to $600 for lower-income workers who did not qualify for refund checks earlier this year. The bill would cut the current 27 percent income-tax rate to 25 percent effective Jan. 1, four years earlier than planned.
Also, the plan would allow businesses to write off 30 percent annually of the cost of new investment for the next three years, and ease the corporate minimum tax.
House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma said it was unfair for lawmakers to go home without addressing the needs of the unemployed.
"I don't know how Mr. Daschle could go home and enjoy Christmas considering what we've seen in our economy over the last month," Mr. Watts said.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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