- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Congress convenes its election-year session today facing wartime budget deficits, a recession and yet another attempt at a plan to improve the economy.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who blocked a vote on a bipartisan economic recovery bill last month, yesterday told President Bush that Senate Democrats want to work with him on a scaled-back plan to help the economy.
"Let's immediately pass what we agree on, and keep working to find common ground in the areas where we still disagree," Mr. Daschle said in a letter.
His new proposal focuses on extending unemployment benefits, providing tax rebates to people who didn't qualify for them last year and giving businesses larger tax write-offs for new investment.
Democrats would forgo their earlier proposals to raise unemployment benefits and to pay the health insurance premiums for workers who recently lost their jobs. Mr. Daschle also wants to drop Republican proposals to accelerate the income-tax cuts enacted last spring and to repeal the corporate alternative minimum tax.
Mr. Bush will meet with House and Senate leaders of both parties at the White House this morning and is expected to renew pressure for an economic recovery bill. The House approved two such bills last fall aimed largely at creating jobs through business-tax cuts, but Mr. Daschle refused to allow a vote as Democrats pressed for more unemployment and health care benefits.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said Mr. Daschle first should allow a vote on the bipartisan deal Mr. Bush struck with congressional leaders last month.
"Before we vote on a scaled-back stimulus package, I'd like to see a vote on a full-fledged stimulus package," Mr. Grassley said. "We should vote on both the White House-Centrist package and a Democratic package and see what happens. If both of those fail, then a scaled-back stimulus package probably could be a viable option."
Mr. Daschle was roundly criticized for holding up a bill to help the economy late last year. A recent CNN poll showed his favorable/unfavorable rating at a poor 39 percent/25 percent, and some Democrats have criticized him for appearing in favor of raising taxes in a recession.
In the House, Republican leaders are considering two moves out of the gate to put Democrats on the defensive: holding a vote on whether to keep intact the Bush administration's tax cut some Senate Democrats propose freezing portions of it and approving a third economic recovery bill to underscore the Senate's failure to act.
A spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey called a referendum on the tax cut "a put-up or shut-up vote."
"The more combative of us would love to see that vote," said Armey spokesman Terry Holt. "The opposition has become the do-nothing party."
Among the other items high on the Senate Democrats' agenda will be an energy package. The administration is pushing for a House-passed bill that includes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a provision Democrats have vowed to reject.
Mr. Bush will submit his first budget to Congress on Feb. 4. Congressional sources say overall discretionary spending for fiscal 2003 will increase 8 to 9 percent under his proposal, including $28 billion more for the Pentagon and a $15 billion boost, to $30 billion, for homeland security. The administration's budget is expected to include a deficit of less than $100 billion.

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