- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2001

House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. says he believes President Bush should have called Congress back from its current recess to try to get the Senate to pass an economic stimulus bill.
Although the president and some other Republican leaders are now uncertain whether legislation to help boost economic recovery will be necessary, Mr. Watts says an economic stimulus package remains a top priority of Americans nationwide.
In an interview that aired yesterday on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields," the Oklahoman was asked if Mr. Bush made a "political mistake" by not heeding House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's plea that he ask Congress to return to Washington in early January to try to pressure Senate Democrats to move on a stimulus bill.
Mr. Watts declined to say Mr. Bush made a mistake, but he made it clear he believes the speaker was right. "When you consider the fact we've lost about 700,000 jobs over the last two and a half months, I think it was important, and I do agree with the speaker that we should have come back shortly after January 1 to try to encourage the Senate to move an economic stimulus package," said Mr. Watts, who ranks fourth among House Republican leaders.
He added: "I don't necessarily put … the fault of this in the lap of the president. I put this in the lap of Sen. [Tom] Daschle."
Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat and Senate majority leader, refused to let the Senate vote on a bipartisan stimulus bill that was passed by the House in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 20, the day before Congress adjourned for its end-of-the-year recess.
House Minority Whip David E. Bonior, who yesterday delivered the Democrats' response to the president's weekly radio address, said agreement over legislation to jump-start the economy failed because Republicans "tried to leave working people behind."
The Michigan Democrat said the House-passed bill, which was supported by nearly all Republicans and only nine Democrats, was weighted toward corporate tax breaks and did nothing to improve health care for the jobless.
Among the new health care benefits Mr. Daschle sought but did not receive was one that would have provided a 75 percent federal subsidy for health insurance coverage for many workers who have lost their jobs. For laid-off workers who did not have health insurance on the job, Democrats wanted to expand coverage under Medicaid.
"When we leave working people behind, when we cater to special interests or corporate greed, bipartisanship breaks down every time," Mr. Bonior said. "When we grant $25 billion in retroactive tax rebates to big corporations at a time when hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers are being laid off, people are going to stand up and say, 'This is wrong.'"
Mr. Watts on CNN did not belittle the Democrats' demands. But he said he's talked to enough people throughout the country to know they feel economic stimulus legislation is essential and also to know what they believe it should contain.
Americans also "want a prescription drug benefit" for seniors, he said. "We need to do that. I think that's very important.
"But I think, even more important, is the fact that they want us to do things to move our economy along. They want us to create economic security for them. They want to get back to work. They want to see business expand and grow jobs," Mr. Watts said.

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