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Time Running Out For US Tax Stimulus Bill

by Mike Godfrey,, Washington

19 December 2001

As the hours tick away until Congress breaks for the Christmas holidays, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott told reporters that he thinks there is only a 50-50 chance that a deal can be reached on a fiscal stimulus bill: "We have 12 hours to agree and the opportunity is still there to help families get back to work. We need to pass a stimulus bill, we can do this and should do this," Lott said.

Senate Democratic Majority leader Thomas Daschle agreed with Lott's assessment of the odds, saying that they would grow longer as the hours tick away. Earlier, House and Senate leaders met with President George W Bush to seek a way to finish a deal. "The meeting was a positive meeting, a productive meeting, in the president's opinion. It was a friendly meeting," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "I think everybody understands how close they really are," he added.

Talks between Republicans and Democrats are currently stymied over the issue of health insurance for laid off workers. Republicans want to provide a tax credit to be used by taxpayers to pay for health insurance, but Democrats say health insurance companies would charge more than the credit covers and the credit would not arrive when it is needed.

House Charles Rangle, the ranking Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said the Republicans want to use tax credits as the first step towards eliminating existing entitlement programs such as Social Security pensions and Medicaid health coverage for the poor. "They want to get rid of entitlements as they exist today," Rangle told reporters, "they just want to get the federal government out of everything."

Republicans are considering bringing a new stimulus package to a vote in the House of Representatives, where they have control, and then seeking to push the measure through the Senate. But Daschle said Republicans would not get the 60 votes needed to pass the measure through the Senate. "They will need 60 votes and they aren't going to get that here," Daschle said.

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