- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Although the nation’s faltering economy was the No. 1 issue during the presidential election, Congress may be unable to call a special session this year to address the situation.

Congressional leaders said that time was running short to convene a so-called lame-duck session. On Monday, Democrats and the White House failed to negotiate a breakthrough over economic stimulus measures that President Bush would be willing to sign into law.

Without such an agreement, both sides said the chances for holding a special session were slim.

Democratic leaders are pushing a $100 billion plan that includes an extension of unemployment benefits, an increase in Medicaid payments to states, and New Deal-style projects to build schools, highways and bridges.

Democrats also are looking to give more aid to U.S. automakers on top of the $25 billion in government loans approved before the election to help the ailing Big Three.

The president balked at many of the proposals, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has said she will not call a lame-duck session unless the White House acquiesces.

“There is no change yet from the White House,” a top House leadership aide said. “There are a number of things to work out … but positive discussions are happening.”

House rules require notice of a legislative session by midweek in order to convene the chamber next week. That is the most likely time for a lame-duck session, since lawmakers are already scheduled to return to Washington to elect their new leaders.

But the White House has greeted Democrats’ lame-duck stimulus plan with skepticism. “We want to do it,” said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi. “But if Republicans plan to block it in the Senate, we won’t even bring it up in the House.”

The White House said it was up to the Democrats to decide how to proceed with an economic stimulus.

“The Democrats have not yet determined how they will move forward and whether they’ll move forward next week,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters. “And before we speculate on what they might hypothetically put forward, I think it’s best to let them continue to talk.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, is considering a lame-duck session next week to take up a package of land-use bills and could use the occasion to tackle economic-stimulus bills passed by the House.

President-elect Barack Obama supports most of the Democrats’ proposals and has called for fast action on an economic stimulus either next week or when the new Congress convenes in January. That option strips some of the urgency of calls for a lame-duck session.

Before the election, the House passed a $61 billion plan that includes infrastructure projects and most of the other Democratic proposals. The Senate version of the bill died in a procedural vote. The chamber could revisit the House version or a stand-alone bill to extend unemployment benefits.

“We’re exploring possibilities,” said an aide to Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and chairman of the Finance Committee. The aide said the talks included House and Senate leaders as well as key Senate Republicans.

House Democrats, House Republicans and Mr. Obama have all been hawking economic-stimulus ideas, as the nation’s economic problems have intensified significantly in recent weeks.

Congressional Democrats have been working on two stimulus packages, one for a lame-duck session and one for January. The lame-duck plan would cost between $60 billion and $100 billion. The price tag for the January package, which would feature a permanent tax cut for lower- and middle-income families, could be significantly higher, though details remain to be worked out.

The Democratic lame-duck plan likely would include a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits, increased spending for food stamps, spending on infrastructure projects and additional aid to state governments, whose budgets have been hurt by the economic downturn. It also might include additional help for automakers.

“I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later,” Mr. Obama said at his first postelection press conference Friday after a meeting with his economic advisers. “If it does not get done in the lame-duck session, it will be the first thing I get done as president of the United States.”

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama proposed a stimulus package costing nearly $200 billion. It included an “emergency energy rebate” of $500 per individual and $1,000 per family. He would give businesses a refundable tax credit of $3,000 for each additional full-time job created during 2009 and 2010, and he would extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks.

Mr. Obama would also fast-track his Universal Mortgage Tax Credit proposal, which would allow taxpayers who do not itemize to deduct a refundable tax credit equal to 10 percent of their mortgage interest.

Mr. Obama also wants to make $25 billion immediately available for infrastructure projects and extend an additional $25 billion in loan guarantees to automakers. Both of those plans might make it into a lame-duck package.

The Boehner Rapid Economic Recovery Plan, named after House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, would double the child tax credit to $2,000, immediately suspend the capital-gains tax on newly acquired assets for two years and reduce the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.

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