- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2001

Senate and House Republican leaders say they will examine the condition of the economy when Congress reconvenes late next month to determine whether the stimulus legislation is still necessary.
"While there's no question in my mind we should have passed that package last week, right at the end of the session, the need for it is beginning to decline," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"And, in a month, we may decide, because of the impact [such a measure] would have on the deficit, the budget, we may not want to do that," the Mississippi Republican added.
On CNN's "Late Edition," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, also was ambivalent when asked whether he would try to put an economic stimulus bill back on the table when Congress returns Jan. 22.
"We're going to have to see where we are in the first month of the new year, and then kind of make our assessments from there. But I don't discount anything at this point," he said.
The House last week passed a stimulus package, endorsed by President Bush, that would have offered business investment incentives, accelerated tax cuts, an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits for those laid off since March, and $600 rebates for lower-income workers who did not qualify for tax refunds earlier this year.
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, would not allow the Senate to vote on the measure.
Mr. Bush expressed disappointment at the Senate's inaction. But he ruled out calling Congress back from a monthlong recess to pass a stimulus package, saying such legislation may not be needed because the economy is showing signs of recovery.
Of Mr. Bush's observations, Mr. Lott said on CBS: "There are some positive signs in the economy three weeks now with unemployment claims down, other signs that maybe the economy is beginning to turn around."
The Republican leader pointed out that Mr. Bush first requested legislation in October to help bolster the economy. "There was clearly a need [then]. I think there is a need now," Mr. Lott said.
What's uncertain, he said, is whether there will still be a need for it early next year.
"I do think tax relief for working Americans is a positive thing, but we have tax relief coming into effect as a result of what we did last spring," when Congress passed the president's 10-year $1.35 trillion tax cut, the Senate's top Republican said.
Mr. Lott added: "We can assess where we are and make a decision in late January or February whether or not we need to pick that bill back up and move it forward."
Mr. Hastert, in an separate interview on "Fox News Sunday," said, "I think the economy's starting to move on its own." But without a stimulus package, he said, it's "less likely we're going to get the pop we need" for an economic turnaround.
Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, who helped broker the bipartisan compromise bill that was passed by the House in the pre-dawn hours Thursday, said he has received no assurance from Mr. Daschle that the Senate will vote on a stimulus package sometime in the next year.
"But I think that economic conditions when we get back on [Jan. 22] will be the driving force there," Mr. Breaux said on "Fox News Sunday."
"If we're still in a recession, we still have high unemployment, people without health insurance, without unemployment compensation, I think the move and drive to pass something will still be as prevalent as it is today," the centrist Democrat said.
Mr. Daschle said he rejected the bill because it would help the wealthy too much and not do enough for the unemployed.
Some Republicans say the Democrats think a weak economy might help them in the 2002 congressional elections.
But Mr. Breaux said yesterday he believes "time was the enemy," not Mr. Daschle.
Mr. Breaux also made it clear that organized labor's demands that the government pay three-quarters of the cost of health insurance benefits for laid-off workers also proved to be a major obstacle.
"For the first time, we had a package that paid about 60 percent of an unemployed worker's premiums for their health insurance. That's the first time the federal government has ever agreed to do that," Mr. Breaux said. "Some people said, no, it should be 75 percent. But in fighting for the higher number, we ended up with no support whatsoever."

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