- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

House Republican leaders are abandoning efforts to pass another economic recovery bill and will instead push this week for a scaled-back package of unemployment benefits and health care tax credits.
"We're going to try to move the ball forward on workers' benefits," said John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. "We want to give people help with their health care costs, and we hope the Senate will accept this approach."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said yesterday he favors adopting the new House strategy but is not optimistic about its chances with Senate Democrats.
"We ought to go ahead and pass the unemployment comp and the tax credits," Mr. Lott said. "Of course, the Democrats have fought the tax credits for health care. So I don't know it's going to be interesting what they do with this. But I would urge them to take this and send it to the president."
The move, likely to come to the House floor tomorrow, would end the Bush administration's plan this year for a $77 billion bill to create jobs, mostly through tax relief. Congressional aides said the latest action is simply a recognition that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, would continue to block House bills that focus mostly on tax cuts.
The Republican-led House has approved three economic recovery bills since last fall. But Senate Democrats have killed those measures, calling the tax breaks too generous for businesses. The Senate has approved only a 13-week extension in unemployment benefits.
The House previously approved legislation that would allow displaced workers to receive a tax credit to cover 60 percent of their health care premiums. Republican leaders will decide today whether to include such a measure with an extension of unemployment benefits a step aides predicted they will take.
But in negotiations, Mr. Daschle and other Democrats have pushed for mandatory health care benefits rather than tax credits.
The shelving of an economic recovery bill will likely increase the momentum among House Republicans to approve a balanced budget for fiscal 2003.
The White House budget calls for a deficit of $80 billion. Without the $77 billion that the administration had set aside for the bill, conservative lawmakers say, they would need to trim only $3 billion more to achieve a balanced budget.
Rank-and-file House Republicans have been advocating that approach to their leaders, including Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle of Iowa, in "listening sessions" held in recent weeks. Mr. Nussle has expressed doubts about reaching that goal, but colleagues say he is coming around to the idea.
The decision to give up on an economic recovery bill has been the subject of lengthy debate among House Republican leaders. Just last week, House Majority Leader Dick Armey argued against approving only an extension of unemployment benefits as a "surrender to unemployment."
"Does anybody believe for one moment that if Tom Daschle got the placebo of 13 weeks more of unemployment … that he would care one whit about putting people back to work?" Mr. Armey said. "It just isn't good enough. It's not good enough for real people who have real families and want to go back to work."


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