Senate GOP blocks Democratic stimulus bill
Wednesday, February 6th 2002, 12:00 am
News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Democratic economic stimulus bill was blocked Wednesday in the Senate by Republicans who had no chance of winning approval of their own version, guaranteeing that recession relief efforts will end in gridlock.
The vote was 56-39 on legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, S.D., which fell four votes short of the 60 needed to prevail under Senate procedural rules. The Daschle bill would have provided $69 billion in stimulus this year.
The Senate was to immediately follow with a vote on a House-passed $89 billion stimulus bill backed by President Bush, but neither side expected it would get the necessary 60 votes.
Daschle said he would later seek unanimous Senate approval of a simple 13-week extension of jobless benefits for the unemployed. The White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, voicing frustration over failure of the stimulus bill, said that aid extension is ``the least they should do.''
Daschle, D-S.D., said Republicans were to blame for insisting on attaching major tax cuts with little bearing on the immediate recession, such an amendments ensuring the estate tax repeal stays in place and making all of the 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut permanent. Both wouldn't take effect until the next decade.
``Frankly, it has nothing to do with the recession of 2002,'' Daschle said before the vote.
Republicans condemned Daschle's decision to move on to other business. Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the failure to act is ``sending a very dangerous and reckless message to an uncertain economy.''
Bush, returning Tuesday from a trip to Pittsburgh, said he, too, was disappointed. The president has been pushing since October for an economic stimulus plan that blended individual and business tax cuts with aid to the jobless to reverse a recession that got worse after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
``Our economy, while there's some good news, needs more stimulus,'' Bush said upon arriving at the White House. ``Workers need help, and we need to stimulate the economy.''
Republicans and Democrats were unable to compromise on the level of tax relief in the package, particularly an acceleration of individual income tax cuts, and how best to deliver aid to the unemployed. The GOP-led House passed two different measures last year, but neither could clear the 60-vote threshold necessary to pass a Senate divided between 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and an independent.
Daschle, who was labeled an ``obstructionist'' by Republicans because of the stimulus deadlock, suggested in January that the Senate pass a bare-bones stimulus bill composed of the most popular items. Republicans derided the Democratic bill as virtually stimulus-free and argued for deeper tax cuts to spur growth.
``If in fact the Senate, under its current leadership, can do nothing good, we are better off with them doing nothing at all,'' said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.
Democrats, however, said Republicans were trying to showcase their tax-cut priorities for voters in an election year, knowing they would not become law.
``It was tied in with their tax breaks that are not justified,'' said Rep. Gerald Kleczka, D-Wis.
Some Republicans had begun to question whether money earmarked for the stimulus bill might not be better used to balance the federal government's budget. A group of 70 House conservatives is pushing for that goal if no stimulus bill is passed.
``If we can't pass a solid economic stimulus bill, we should balance the budget this year,'' said Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
Other lawmakers expressed frustration that election-year politics already were dominating the congressional agenda. Voters will think ``we're too busy down here trying to figure out who's going to control the U.S. Senate'' to address crucial issues, said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
The Bush administration supports a package that would provide $89 billion in stimulus in 2002 and $73 billion in 2003. It would accelerate income tax cuts now set to take effect in the future and provide a new round of rebate checks of up to $600 aimed at lower-income Americans.
It would extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks, help laid-off workers pay for health insurance and give corporations and small businesses more generous tax breaks for new investment.
Daschle's bill, which would provide $69 billion in stimulus in 2002, includes the unemployment benefits extension, more limited business tax breaks, tax rebate checks and an increase in Medicaid money to help states balance their budgets.