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House OKs tax cut, extends jobless benefits
WASHINGTON -- Ending months of gridlock on recession relief, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation Thursday combining tax cuts intended to spark business growth and a 13-week extension of benefits for millions of unemployed people.
Following the 417-3 vote in the House, Senate Democrats they would bring the bill to the floor first thing today for a vote. The White House said President Bush would sign the measure into law.
Three previous economic stimulus bills passed by the Republican-led House containing bigger tax cuts had languished in the Senate.
"The Senate needs to act and get the bill to my desk, and I look forward to signing it," Bush said at the White House. "We've had too much non-movement on this important issue, and it's time to go."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said, "I am very pleased they have chosen to follow a path that many of us were suggesting long ago."
"We think this is the right prescription," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
The House vote coincided with a Capitol Hill appearance by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who gave a more upbeat economic forecast than he had a week earlier. Given the size of the U.S. economy, Greenspan told the Senate Banking Committee that the relatively modest stimulus package would have little impact on recession recovery.
"I doubt very much that the economy, if it didn't get a stimulus, would sag," Greenspan said.
Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said: "I think calling it a stimulus is a huge stretch of the concept of a stimulus. It would be more accurate to call this a jobs bill."
Blunt, a member of the GOP leadership team, credited passage of Bush's tax-cut package last year with much of the economy's improvement.
Proponents, however, said it would aid sectors of the economy that need it, including manufacturing and high-tech companies.
"It may not help a whole lot, but it will not hurt," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif.
The legislation would pump $51 billion into the economy this year, $43 billion next year and $29 billion in 2004, congressional analysts say. Its total cost over 10 years is about $42 billion, because some tax breaks would generate government revenue in later years.
The measure would extend regular 26-week jobless benefits by 13 weeks and allow for additional automatic extensions in states with high unemployment rates.
Many lawmakers were nervous in an election year about failing to act on lengthening the benefits before Monday, six months since the Sept. 11 attacks that also worsened the economic slide. Daschle said about 1.6 million people have seen their unemployment benefits expire since the attacks.
For businesses, the measure provides an immediate 30 percent depreciation write-off over each of the next three years for new investments, and a more generous way to deduct losses from taxes paid in previous years. Both items, supporters said, would spur business activity right away and enable companies to hire more workers.
The bill creates a "Liberty Zone" in the lower Manhattan section of New York in which $5 billion in various tax breaks would be available over 10 years to help the city recover from the attacks. In addition, the bill would extend a list of popular tax breaks, most for two more years, that have expired or will do so this year.
Despite the lopsided vote, Democrats and Republicans traded charges over who was to blame for the bickering that stalled a compromise for five months.
Democrats contended that House GOP leaders had capitulated under pressure, finally dropping such contested proposals as accelerated income tax cuts and repeal of the corporate alternative minimum tax.
"This is a hardheaded lot we have here in the House leadership," said House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. "They are always out of step with everybody else on what is moderate and sensible and reasonable to do."
Hastert told reporters it was Republican persistence that overcame inaction by Daschle and Senate Democrats.
"We did not back up, we did not wave a white flag or retreat," the speaker said.
There was some grumbling in the House that the compromise, however worthy, would worsen the federal budget picture in the next few years because the costs are not offset by either spending cuts or revenue increases.
The three votes against the measure all came from "Blue Dog" Democrats who advocate a cautious fiscal approach: Reps. Alan Boyd of Florida, Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Charles Stenholm of Texas.