- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

The chances of quick Senate action on an economic stimulus plan seemed in doubt yesterday after Democratic leadership officials said they did not know if their bill had enough votes to get out of committee.

Believing that the Democrats were hopelessly divided over what their economic recovery bill should contain, Senate Republican leaders drafted their own tax-cut-stimulus plan last night in the hopes of breaking the stalemate, a Republican leadership official said.

The Republican bill will call for accelerating all the marginal income-tax-rate cuts that were enacted this spring, making them effective in 2002, faster tax write-offs for business, prospective repeal of the corporate alternative minimum tax, and tax relief for low- and middle-income Americans.

After the House narrowly passed a $100 billion tax-cut-stimulus bill Wednesday, attention has turned to the Senate where Democratic leaders were pushing a smaller $70 billion plan, most of it concentrated on new spending aimed at the unemployed and lower-income workers.

But it was not clear yesterday whether the bill's chief architect, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, had enough votes in his committee to send his bill to the Senate floor for action.

"The goal right now is that Chairman Baucus would like to have a committee product, but there are other options and I wouldn't rule anything out right now. We haven't gotten into the process of doing a head count [in the committee]," said Mike Siegel, the committee's spokesman.

Democrats have an 11-10 majority on the committee, but earlier this year several of their members, including Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas were among a dozen Democrats who broke party ranks to vote for Mr. Bush's $1.35 trillion tax-cut plan.

Mr. Baucus has been meeting with Senate groups including the Centrist Coalition, led by Mr. Breaux, who was said by some Senate officials to be working on a compromise stimulus bill that included some of what the administration wanted in the package.

Republican leadership officials said that if the Democratic plan could not attract a majority in committee, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle might use his leadership prerogatives to bypass the panel and bring the bill directly to the floor.

Senate Democratic officials said yesterday that they could not say when a bill would be taken up in the Senate, though some Republican aides said that the House's action has put new pressure on Mr. Daschle to break the logjam.

"I've heard that [the stimulus bill] could be taken up within a week to two weeks," Mr. Siegel said. But he also acknowledged that "there was agreement on both sides that we need to move as soon as possible, that there is a sense of urgency on this."

Despite numerous meetings between Mr. Baucus and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, however, the administration has been unable to reach any agreement on a compromise bill.

A bleak report yesterday on the economy only added to the pressure on Congress. The government reported that factory orders for big-ticket items and home sales plunged in September and that the number of Americans drawing unemployment benefits is now at an 18-year high. "This is reaching critical mass," a Republican leadership official said.

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