- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

A band of conservative House Republicans has forged a new economic aid bill with provisions favored by Democrats, and Republican leaders fear it could help Senate Democrats politically.
House Republicans abruptly shelved a package yesterday that contained tax credits for health care insurance and a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits because Democrats opposed the health care provision.
Instead, Republicans will hold a vote today on a proposal that includes the unemployment benefits; a 30-percent tax write-off for new business investment favored by many Democrats; and tax relief for New York recovery efforts. The package is similar to the one proposed by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in January.
"We might as well get what we can get," said Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican and head of a 60-member group of conservative lawmakers called the Republican Study Committee. "It's a disappointment we're not getting real [economic] stimulus, thank you, Mr. Daschle."
Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, has blocked three other House bills that were focused on reviving the economy primarily with tax cuts.
House Republicans said the bill to be considered today was pushed by the conservative members despite objections by some in the leadership, who argued that the move could enable Mr. Daschle to take credit for the package after getting most of the blame for blocking earlier efforts.
The new bill "potentially lets Daschle off the hook," said one House Republican leadership aide.
Daschle spokeswoman Ranit Schmelzer said she could not comment on the House bill until a final version is approved.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said some Republicans are feeling pressure to extend unemployment benefits that are due to expire on Monday.
"That deadline is coming up next week, and some of our members, particularly in the North and Northeast, are getting a little concerned about not having done something," Mr. DeLay said. "That [extending unemployment compensation] drives up the cost of small-business people, and we're trying to offset that cost with the tax provisions."
The bill also would extend for two years popular business tax breaks that are set to expire. Its overall cost is estimated at $46 billion over 10 years.
Mr. DeLay expressed little enthusiasm for the bill. He said it was not a concession to Mr. Daschle, who wants the extension of unemployment benefits, because Republicans also aim to offset those costs to business owners.
"Stimulus is over, and we're moving on to other things," Mr. DeLay said. "This is not stimulus by anybody's stretch of the imagination."
The new bill has the support of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican.
"We want to get something done," said Hastert spokesman John Feehery. "We think there's a good chance [the Senate] will pass it. We've exhausted everything else."
Mr. Thomas said the House proposal was an effort "to save the Senate from itself."
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said the shift in Republicans' strategy was a good sign, but he wanted to see the final version.
"My fear is they'll come back [today] with another bill that has even more extraneous matters on it, and we'll be right back to where we started from," Mr. Gephardt said.

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