- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

Business leaders said yesterday that President Bush's emerging economic-stimulus package is "a good start," but there was also grumbling that the White House was taking too long to finalize it and some Republican leaders have begun discussing a plan of their own.

After weeks of White House debate and negotiations with congressional leaders that still have not produced a package that is acceptable to all sides, Mr. Bush moved to shift the stalled stimulus initiative out of neutral yesterday by calling for a $60 billion to $75 billion stimulus plan and suggesting some of the things he would like to see in it.

White House and Republican leadership officials said that Mr. Bush is getting close to working out an agreement that Democratic leaders can support. But there were also signs of impatience and frustration among the president's top business supporters, who said that no one in the administration seemed to be in charge of getting the stimulus package wrapped up.

"The situation desperately needs adult supervision. Everybody's got their pet ideas, some of which have nothing to do with the economic plunge that followed the September 11 attacks," said a chief business association lobbyist who has been advising the administration.

"Everybody is in charge and nobody is in charge. The president has a full plate with the war against terrorism, but it is time to start moving on this," he said. "The White House pretty much has the ability to get anything the president demands. But they either do not realize their power or have elected not to use it."

Other business lobbyists supporting the president's push for a tax-cutting stimulus package privately voiced similar complaints, with some saying that anything that the Democrats agree to will be so watered down with social-welfare spending that the ultimate plan will be too weak to stimulate an economy that most economists now believe is in a recession.

Still, the president's business supporters said yesterday that they will rally around any plan that he proposes.

"At the end of the day, whatever the president decides is the wisest course of action to stimulate the economy, we will fully support that proposal," said Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and one of four co-chairmen of the Tax Relief Coalition of more than a thousand business organizations.

Mr. Bush laid down a few markers yesterday, saying that the package must boost consumer confidence and business investment. A few ways to do that would be accelerating the tax cuts that are already in the pipeline, another round of tax rebates, and giving businesses one-time investment tax credits.

But Democrats want more social spending for displaced workers in the form of lengthened unemployment benefits, health care insurance, job retraining and a higher minimum wage.

Meantime, House Republican leader Dick Armey, criticizing the Democratic spending proposals, sent out new signals yesterday that he and other House Republicans were stitching together the outlines of their own stimulus plan.

"An aggressive, investor-driven, pro-growth agenda is the best response. Government cannot buy its way out of a recession. Fostering investment and creating jobs will turn this economy around," Mr. Armey said.

The Texas Republican, who taught college-level economics, said he has been meeting with "key Republican groups to promote a pro-growth agenda." On Tuesday, he put out a statement setting forth four "Principles for an Economic Growth Package."

Terry Holt, Mr. Armey's chief spokesman, denied yesterday that he was fashioning his own plan in case Mr. Bush cannot get a bipartisan agreement, or that Republicans were becoming impatient with the slow pace of Mr. Bush's negotiations with Democratic leaders.

"We have been in lockstep with the administration. We have been patient. We are beginning to formulate some concrete ideas in the House about what we'd like to happen and Armey is reflecting the evolution of that," Mr. Holt said.

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