WASHINGTON (AP) Republican insistence on speeding up future income tax cuts and Democratic desire to guarantee health insurance for the unemployed were the main stumbling blocks yesterday in negotiations on economic stimulus legislation.
Both sides nonetheless expressed optimism that the talks between three Republicans and three Democrats that were scheduled to begin last night with an organizational session will produce a compromise that President Bush would sign into law.
“There is no reason we can”t get it done,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the chief House negotiator.
The Bush administration was not represented in this initial round, which Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said could make reaching a final deal more difficult.
“We”re only going to negotiate this once,” Daschle said. “They have to be in the room for that to happen.”
Ways and Means Committee spokeswoman Barbara Clay said the House-Senate agreement on who would be in the room did not include administration officials, but she added: “We will certainly include the administration when it”s appropriate.”
On many issues, the two sides are not far apart. For instance, there is general agreement that unemployment benefits should be extended for 13 weeks and that lower-income workers should get a tax break, probably a new round of rebate checks.
Republicans and Democrats both support some form of temporary bonus depreciation and enhanced expensing for business, which allow faster tax write-offs for investments such as equipment purchases.
Some Republicans are cooling to the idea of repealing the corporate alternative minimum tax, especially the House-passed provisions giving big companies billions of dollars in rebates for taxes paid as far back as 1986.
That leaves individual tax cuts and health insurance. On tax cuts, the $100 billion House-passed stimulus bill would cut the 27 percent rate to 25 percent in 2002, four years ahead of schedule.
Some Republicans want to accelerate all the future individual rate cuts included in the 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax relief bill enacted earlier this year. They say such tax cuts are the best engine for economic growth.
“Our singular objective here ought to be stimulating growth in the economy, and it”s our hope that everybody comes in with the same objectives,” said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, another stimulus negotiator.