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January 21, 08

NEWS / Bush Proposing $145 Billion Plan to Spur Economy

WASHINGTON — President Bush called Friday for roughly $145 billion in tax relief for individuals and businesses that he said would “provide a shot in the arm” for the economy, while Congressional Democrats, in a rare show of Washington bipartisanship, pledged to work with him to enact a plan quickly.

As Democrats began previewing their plans, the question of the stimulus package became a quiet undercurrent of Mr. Bush’s extended trip through the Middle East. As Mr. Paulson reached out to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Mr. Bush was receiving daily updates on economic data and reports being released back home, according to the White House counselor, Ed Gillespie.

The White House staff took part in a conference call on the options being considered by Mr. Paulson on the night Mr. Bush stayed on the farm of the Saudi leader, King Abdullah. The president convened a final staff meeting to talk about the package aboard Air Force One on Wednesday as he flew home from Egypt, and he agreed to talk to House and Senate leaders on Thursday.

One Republican close to the White House said Mr. Bush’s aides concluded that it was important for the president to get out ahead of any Democratic proposals. “The president had to define the policy and political environment and lead the Congressional Republicans,” this Republican said.

Both parties see political opportunity in acting quickly. Mr. Bush’s approval ratings may be low, but the ratings of Congress are even lower, and both sides believe that voters will look favorably on quick bipartisan action.

“There is a growing concern that the economy is deteriorating and Congress and the president must act quickly,” said one senior Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re not able to afford that typical drawn-out and political legislative battle where both sides first stake out hard-line positions and come together after months of debate. We need to expedite the process by trying to take the politics out of it, which in turn is good politics.”

Republicans appeared to be lining up behind Mr. Bush’s plan — and, in a rare turn of events, praising Democrats. “We have started this year in a new way,” the House Republican whip, Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, said.

But some economists questioned the wisdom of tax rebates as an effective stimulus tool. Brian M. Riedl, who analyzes the federal budget for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization here, argued that rebates were essentially a redistribution of wealth and did not add anything to the economy, because the government must either levy taxes or borrow money to pay for them.

“Unfortunately, lawmakers are taking the political approach on the stimulus, which is to say they seem to be focusing on what proposals are popular than what will actually help the economy,” Mr. Riedl said.

At least one Republican, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, agreed. “I think it’s fine to send people their tax money back, but I don’t think it does much to generate economic growth,” he said, adding, “This wouldn’t be the first thing on my wish list.”

But Mr. Ryan said he would vote for the plan anyway.

Carl Hulse, Steven Lee Myers and Edmund L. Andrews contributed reporting.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/19/washington/19fiscal.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=business



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