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US Congress Works on Economic Stimulus Package - 2001-12-12

U.S. Congressional leaders are making progress on plans to pass the president's economic stimulus package. Mr. Bush says the plan is crucial to helping America's economy recover from a recession made worse by terrorist attacks.

President Bush is changing parts of his economic stimulus package to get it through the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The president's new proposals include extending unemployment benefits nationwide and accelerating cuts in the tax rates only for lower-income Americans. The original plan extended unemployment benefits only in areas hardest hit by the economic downturn and included tax rate cuts for wealthier Americans as well.

The new proposals also include more money for health insurance for laid-off workers and scale back rather than repeal a tax on corporations. After meeting with his economic team, the president said it looks like there are enough votes to get what he called "a good package" through the U.S. Senate. "It is important to take care of those workers that have been affected by the attacks of September 11," he said. "And it's also important to focus on ways to grow our economy. And so this administration is committed to helping the Congress do its job."

Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle says time is running out for the president's stimulus package, but he promised that Senate Democrats would make their "best effort" to get a deal done in the next few days. He said the new proposals go some way toward addressing Democratic concerns about health insurance and unemployment compensation. "The Democrats biggest concern, I think, is how we address all of those 7.5 million unemployed workers, many of whom are temporary or late hires who need the help both in health insurance as well as unemployment compensation," he said. "We are trying to find a way with which to do that as well as stimulate the economy through additional tax cuts."

Senator Minority Leader Republican Trent Lott says the president has worked hard to bridge the differences between the parties to get a stimulus package that will help the economy. "I think that there has been sigificant movement here over the past few days with suggestions from the House, suggestions from Senator Daschle," said senator Lott. "I think we need to get it done. The question is, are we commited? Can we get it over the top? As close as we are and as important as it is for the workers of America who are out of work right now and for those who hope the economy will grow and get a job next year. This is important."

Bush Administration officials say rising unemployment figures make it even more important for Congress to pass economic stimulus before its end of year recess.