Stimulus package hangs on health care

Thursday, December 20, 2001

WASHINGTON -- President Bush journeyed to the Capitol on Wednesday to lobby for recession relief legislation, and House Republicans sweetened their bill with fresh billions for health care in a push for bipartisan backing on a late-night vote.

Democrats denounced the measure as a political gesture with no chance of becoming law.

"The only thing I can figure is they don't want a stimulus package," said Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., ..."It's very frustrating."

Republicans "refused to negotiate seriously" over health care for the unemployed, countered Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

House Republicans set the stage for a late, long evening of debate after declaring that weeks of fitful bipartisan negotiations on economic stimulus legislation had reached a dead end.

The House bill approves 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits for those laid off since the March onset of the recession, money for health insurance subsidies for the unemployed and rebates of up to $600 for lower-wage earners who did not qualify for this summer's checks.

In late afternoon, Republicans also disclosed they had added $4.6 billion to the measure for the states to spend on health care costs. GOP officials said the proposal was designed to satisfy governors fearful that the recession would overwhelm their state Medicaid budgets, and also to make the measure more attractive to Democrats in the House and Senate. Hastert and other leaders worked successfully to quell concerns raised by GOP conservatives, these officials said.

Tax rate cut

The bill also would cut the current 27 percent income tax rate to 25 percent effective Jan. 1, four years earlier than planned. Beginning in 2002, that rate applies to taxable income between $27,950 and $67,700 for individuals, and between $46,700 and $112,850 for married couples.

In addition, the bill would let businesses write off 30 percent annually of the cost of new investment for the next three years, and ease a corporate minimum tax that can boost corporations' tax bills even in unprofitable years.

House passage was assured, given the GOP majority, although no vote seemed likely until well after midnight. Democrats said they expected few defections on what shaped up as a largely party-line vote.

In the Democratic-controlled Senate, there appeared to be more than 50 votes for the measure. But the GOP was unable to count the 60 votes needed to force final approval over the opposition of Daschle and other members of his party.

In an unusual working visit to the Capitol, Bush met privately with moderate House Democrats as well as a bipartisan group of senators, three Democrats among them, who support the GOP measure. In brief remarks to reporters, Bush did not mention Daschle by name, but his reference was unmistakable.

"This bill will pass the House. It's got enough votes to pass the Senate," he said. "And therefore, I look forward to working with both bodies in any way I can to convince those who are reluctant to get a bill done, that this makes sense for America."

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