Friday, November 16, 2001

House and Senate Republican leaders are willing to meet with their Democratic counterparts to work out a compromise, tax-cutting stimulus bill, but please do not call it a “summit.”
Senate Republican leadership officials said yesterday that negotiations will probably be held between congressional leaders and the White House at some point in an attempt to break the legislative impasse on a stimulus bill.
“It looks like a meeting will be held, but it is not, not, not going to be a summit. That word is a swear word among Republicans. We’re not looking for a high-powered, off-campus summit, but a meeting for leaders to sit down and craft a bill that can pass Congress and be signed by President Bush,” a senior Senate leadership official said yesterday.
The history of congressional summit meetings to break a stalemate on the budget or other domestic issues conjures up some embarrassing political setbacks for Republican leaders who want to avoid them in the future.
Many ruefully remember former President George Bush’s 1990 budget summit meeting at Andrews Air Force Base, engineered by White House Budget Director Richard Darman, that led to an agreement to raise taxes that many believe cost Mr. Bush the 1992 election.
Then there were the budget summits under President Clinton in which he usually squeezed more spending out of Congress and almost always won the public relations battle.
“Summits usually lead to more spending. It is a recipe for trouble and almost never results in a good outcome,” said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
House Republicans leaders initially balked at any talk of a “summit” to hammer out a deal. But yesterday their spokesman indicated they would be willing to meet with Democratic leaders as long as there is a real possibility of getting a stimulus bill close to the largely tax-cutting measure they have already passed.
“The speaker doesn’t want any kind of a summit that includes spending, but he’s open to the idea that we have to have a stimulus and would go to a meeting to break an impasse,” said John Feehery, chief spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.
“The door way down the hall is ultimately open to talks,” said House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s spokesman, Terry Holt. “Armey would certainly want to do what he could to get a growth bill.”
Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, a member of the tax-writing Finance Committee who has been through many “summit” meetings during his career, concedes he isn’t terribly excited about going into a deal-making meeting, but sees no alternative.
“The situation we’re in is if we want to consider a stimulus bill, it’s probably the only vehicle we have,” Mr. Gramm said. As for his colleagues on the House side, “I think they are going to have to participate and whatever comes out of it, they can always say no,” he said.
But Mr. Gramm acknowledges that any agreement with the Democrats on a stimulus package is going to be costly in terms of agreeing to some of the spending increases that make up more than half of the Democrats’ bill.
However, the Texas Republican says that the bottom line for him in any negotiations is Mr. Bush’s proposal to speed up the tax cuts that Congress passed last spring.
“As long as we stay with the president’s principles, I’m not afraid of a summit. But if it’s clear that we will not get accelerated tax-rate reductions, then I say this thing is not worth the price,” he said.

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