WASHINGTON (AP) Republicans sought to blame Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle for the collapse yesterday of the economic stimulus bill. Democrats said the true culprit was an insatiable GOP appetite for tax cuts that favor business and the wealthy.

The two sides traded shots after the Senate failed to muster the 60 votes necessary to end debate on competing GOP and Democratic proposals. That guaranteed gridlock and led Daschle to remove the issue from consideration.

The Senate approved a straightforward 13-week extension of benefits for the unemployed, a measure that now goes to the House.

Despite bipartisan cooperation that followed the Sept. 11 terror attacks, proposals to boost the economy were mired in politics from the beginning as the two sides could not agree on the right mix of tax cuts and government spending.

Daschle, the nation”s highest-ranking elected Democrat, was portrayed by Republican leaders as unwilling to compromise even after the House twice passed GOP-written stimulus packages and President Bush has pushed for one for months as a tonic to the recession.

“Tom Daschle decided to thwart the will of the Senate majority and kill further consideration of an economic stimulus bill that would have actually helped millions of Americans,” said House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill). “I think that is a real shame.”

It was Daschle”s legislation providing $69 billion in stimulus this year that got 56 votes yesterday, which represented a Senate majority but fell short of the 60-vote procedural threshold.

That bill included unemployment aid, Medicaid money to help state budgets, a 30 percent depreciation tax break for business investment and a new round of tax rebate checks aimed at lower-income people.

A competing $89 billion Republican package contained more business and individual tax cuts. Passed by the House in December and included in Bush”s new budget, it managed only 48 votes.

“We made every effort, at every level, to come together,” said Daschle, of South Dakota. “And the Republicans said no. They killed the opportunity to bring together a compromise.”

Democrats contended the GOP was using the stimulus legislation as a vehicle for favorite tax cuts that had little to do with fighting recession. An example they gave is that Republicans sought a vote Tuesday on an amendment that would guarantee permanent repeal of the estate tax, which would have had no impact for almost a decade under the $1.35 trillion tax cut enacted last year.

“It was phase two in their tax campaign,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Republicans replied that for all Daschle”s talk of common ground, there was never a real effort to let the Senate work its will.

“There was a shutdown, and the Senate can”t operate when it”s shut down. So if the Senate majority leader wants to get things done, he”s going to have to let votes occur, amendments be offered,” said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

The one bright spot in yesterday”s failure was the Senate”s voice vote approval of a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits, which current law ends after 26 weeks. As of January, there were 7.9 million jobless people in America, an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent, and benefits are running out for many.

The Bush administration expressed frustration and disappointment that a broader package will not pass but nonetheless voiced support for the benefits extension, which carries an estimated $8 billion price tag.

“Passing an extension of unemployment benefits is the least they can do,” said Treasury Secretary Paul O”Neill.

House Republican leaders had not decided Wednesday when the benefits extension would come up for a vote, but it appeared likely that it would pass relatively quickly and be sent to the White House for the president”s signature.

The administration-backed stimulus package would have accelerated income tax cuts now set to take effect in the future and provided a new round of rebate checks of up to $600 aimed at lower-income Americans. It included the 13-week benefits extension, help for laid-off workers to pay for health insurance and more generous tax breaks for new investment by corporations and small businesses.

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