- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

President Bush used unusually blunt language yesterday as he told Congress to "get to work and get something done" on an economic-stimulus package that would cut taxes while avoiding further spending.
Responding to yesterday's announcement that the gross domestic product (GDP) had fallen 0.4 percent in the third quarter, Mr. Bush openly scolded lawmakers for spending tens of billions of dollars to jump-start the economy without providing an equal amount in tax cuts.
"And so my call to Congress is: Get to work and get something done," the president told the National Association of Manufacturers in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. "The Congress needs to pass a stimulus package and get it to my desk before the end of November."
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who had breakfast with Mr. Bush in the White House yesterday, said there will be no economic-stimulus bill unless it includes significant spending on health and unemployment benefits. Mr. Daschle expressed alarm at Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill's vow to recommend a presidential veto of excessive spending on health and unemployment benefits.
"I want to make it as clear as I can make it: We will fight with all that we've got, to ensure that unemployment compensation and health benefits are covered in any economic plan that the Congress passes and sends to the president this year," Mr. Daschle told reporters. "In fact, I think I would go so far as to say we will not pass a bill that does not address those two critical needs."
But Mr. O'Neill said passage of an economic-stimulus package might be the only way to push the GDP back into positive territory for the fourth quarter. That would avert a recession, which is defined by two consecutive drops in the quarterly GDP.
"If we can get this stimulus bill in place quickly, there's still a plausible argument that the fourth quarter could be mildly positive," Mr. O'Neill said.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the president has no problem with health and unemployment benefits, as long as they take the form of emergency grants to individual states, which would administer the payments.
"The president is already on the record of supporting an extension of unemployment benefits," Mr. Fleischer said. "The president's proposal to provide national emergency grants would provide coverage for people's health insurance."
Mr. Daschle was not impressed.
"I'm still concerned that we're getting mixed messages from the White House about the economic stimulus," he said. "Frankly, I'm not even enamored any longer with this word 'stimulus.' I think we've got a lot of recovery work to do.
"And when you look at the unemployed, there is a need to address recovery, and so what we were hoping is we could find some bipartisan vehicle," he added. "That's no longer at least likely in the short term."
Mr. Bush said yesterday's announcement that the economy had contracted for the first time in years "confirms that the events on September 11th have really shocked the nation, have affected our work force and affected our business base."
While no president wants the economy to shrink on his watch, Mr. Bush did not try to sugarcoat yesterday's downturn. Instead, he acknowledged the seriousness of the slump, reminded Americans they are at war, and tried to turn the economic news into a rallying cry for tax cuts.
"People are having tough times in America; people are losing their jobs," the president said. "Consumer confidence is down. After all, we're at war. And for the first time in our nation's history, part of the battle front is here at home."
Mr. Fleischer pointed out that the government has already spent $55 billion to resuscitate the shell-shocked economy in the wake of the September 11 terrorist strikes against the United States. Mr. Bush now wants at least that much in tax cuts.
"To be precise, the president has called for $60 [billion] to $75 billion worth of economic stimulus, which the president has said should be tax cuts," Mr. Fleischer said. "He did include in there a small portion of spending.
"I think the problem in the Senate is they want to do it all in spending or virtually all in spending," he said. "And the president thinks that would not stimulate the economy."
While the Republican-controlled House has passed elements of Mr. Bush's tax-relief package, the Democrat-controlled Senate is holding out for more government spending as a way to stimulate the economy.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd scoffed at Mr. Bush's admonition to Congress not to spend too much money on a stimulus plan. He said the administration already "spent" $1.3 trillion from government coffers on a tax cut this year.
"For them to give somebody a lecture on spending, it seems to me comes with some kind of poor grace," said Mr. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat. "They're the biggest spenders of all.
"When we moved back into control here in the Senate [in June], I found that the cupboard was bare," he said. "They spent all the money before we got here. They are the spenders, hands down. They are the champs."
Mr. Byrd is proposing to spend $20 billion on homeland security, from anthrax vaccines to safe drinking water. He said Democrats haven't decided yet whether to include the new spending in their stimulus plan, which already totals $70 billion, or to add it to an appropriations bill.
"Let's think in terms of the security of our homeland and put some people to work," Mr. Byrd said. He said the administration's proposal, which is weighted toward tax relief, would "give a lot more money to people who won't spend it."
The author of the Senate Democrats'plan, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, met yesterday with ranking Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa to seek a compromise.
In addition to pushing for an economic-stimulus plan, the president also renewed his calls for Congress to pass an energy plan and give him trade promotion authority. Mr. Bush said all three measures would help resuscitate the economy.
Dave Boyer contributed to this report.


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