President, Sen. Reid duel over economy in radio addresses

Saturday, December 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush traded jabs with congressional Democrats on Saturday over tax breaks and unemployment assistance in a bad economy made worse by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The president argued in his weekly radio address that his proposed economic stimulus plan is focused on the unemployed. It extends jobless benefits by 13 weeks in states most devastated by the attacks, he said, and offers Medicaid coverage for uninsured workers and emergency grants for job training.

``We must bring quick help to those who need it most, and we must restore our economy's growth,'' Bush said. ``It's the holiday season. It's a time to reach out to Americans who are hurting, to help them put food on the table and to keep a roof over their heads.''

But Democrats, in a radio response by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, said those efforts don't do enough to help the suddenly poor, particularly when the House-passed version of the stimulus plan devotes billions in tax breaks to multinational corporations.

``Unemployed workers need that money, ... and they will use that money immediately, spending it and in turn helping stimulate the economy,'' said Reid, who ranks second in the Senate Democratic leadership. ``These are difficult and unusual times, but we must not run up the national debt with risky, unfair tax measures that won't help the economy recover.''

The verbal jousting took place against a backdrop of worsening economic indicators, the latest of which came Friday: A 1.1 percent drop in the Gross Domestic Product that showed the economy was much weaker than estimated between July 1 and Sept. 30.

There were some signs of compromise, however, as the Republican-led House and the Democratic-run Senate tentatively agreed late Friday to appoint a bipartisan group of six lawmakers to work out a stimulus bill. A second, smaller group would focus on specific health care issues.

Bush said he wants to lower taxes on employers so they can expand and hire to put more people back to work faster.

``We should reform our tax laws so that employers don't pay more taxes as their profits shrink,'' he said. He noted that he also asked Congress to speed along income tax reductions passed last spring, ``so that people can keep more of their own money to spend or pay their debts.''

The president said while he knew the economy was headed into a downward spiral, he saw signs of improvement after he pushed through a large tax cut last spring and ``imposed some much-needed discipline'' on federal spending.

``But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 hit our economy hard,'' Bush said. ``Now we need to act boldly to protect America's economic security.''

He again appealed for the Senate to approve the stimulus plan, noting that more than 415,000 people have lost their jobs since he submitted the proposal Oct. 5.

``After September 11, my administration and the Congress made a conscious decision to show the terrorists we could work together,'' Bush said. ``We had an obligation to show that democracy works. We've done that. And now we need to do it again by helping dislocated workers and spurring economic growth.''

Reid disputed Bush, saying the attacks dealt a serious blow to the economy but did not sink it into recession. As far as the president's stimulus goes, he said, it was Senate Republicans who balk at compromise.

Reid accused them of engaging in ``procedural tricks'' to delay agreement but said the impasse could melt away if the Senate's GOP leadership stops ``taking its marching orders from the radical House Republicans.''

``We remain hopeful that Republicans will remember those men and women in unemployment lines across the nation and come back to the negotiating table,'' Reid said.