Missourians in Congress join in economic debate

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

WASHINGTON -- A month after partisan bickering blocked measures aimed at stimulating the economy, Missourians in Congress greeted the president's State of the Union address Tuesday with renewed resolve to beat back the recession.

Several Missourians highlighted Bush's support for small business tax cuts.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican, said the White House proposals geared at small businesses are the best breaks in the stimulus package. "Small businesses are actually the businesses that are creating jobs at the moment," the southeast Missouri lawmaker said.

The Senate added such a break to economic stimulus legislation, approving an amendment by Republican Sen. Kit Bond to boost what small firms can deduct from their tax returns for buying new equipment.

"We've got to get jobs to get out of this hole," Bond said. "That's the way you create jobs. Seventy-five to 90 percent of all new jobs are going to come from small business, and this expensing will go a long way to help them."

Freshman Republican Rep. Sam Graves mentioned decal factory in Unionville in his northwest Missouri district.

"They're thinking about purchasing new equipment. If they can get some changes in depreciation and expensing, that's the kind of thing they're looking to use as a catalyst to start expansion, which will add more jobs," Graves said.

More tax breaks

Republicans are seeking to add even more tax breaks to the Senate measure, which would extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and give out a new round of rebate checks to lower-income people. But while they control the House, Democrats control the Senate, where stimulus legislation has faltered.

Rep. Dick Gephardt, the St. Louis lawmaker who leads House Democrats, said "there has been no daylight between" the political parties in the war on terrorism, and he called for the same cooperation when it comes to the economy. He is seeking to gather Democratic and Republican leaders for a White House summit on the economy and jobs.

"I refuse to accept that while we stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the war, we should stand toe-to-toe on the economy," Gephardt said in delivering the Democratic response to Bush's address. "We need to find a way to respect each other, and trust each other, and work together to solve the long-term challenges America faces. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and go to work."

One reason for the disagreement is that the federal budget has been pinched by recession and by the first round of Bush's tax cuts. That is why Democrats are blaming the Republican president for the first bout of deficit spending in four years.

Republican Rep. Roy Blunt, a member of House leadership who is close to the president, acknowledged that "some parts of the budget will be tight."

"But tonight the President asked us to tighten our belts a little bit, and he laid out a plan for returning us to budget surpluses sooner, rather than later," Blunt said.

Another St. Louis lawmaker, Republican Rep. Todd Akin, said the most important effort to spark the economy has already passed: President Bush's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut package, which became law last summer.

"That is exactly what you have to do in the case of a downturn of the economy," Akin said. "Ronald Reagan did that 20 years ago when we were in a much worse recession."

Now the tax cuts need to become permanent, he said. Because of arcane budget rules, the tax breaks will end after 10 years, on New Year's Eve, 2010.

Akin also predicted the economy would bounce back in the next year, saying that unemployment typically is the final indicator of a recession.

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