Lawmakers call for economic stimulus bill

WASHINGTON — With a new year under way and leaders in apparent agreement that something needs to be done to boost the economy, it still remains to be seen whether Congress and President Bush can accomplish a stimulus bill, several Nevada lawmakers said Friday.

“You have to start off as hopeful that the two parties can work together and put Americans first,” said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said a public perception of a “do nothing Congress” adds to the weight of downturns in housing, job growth and consumer spending, and troublesome hikes in gasoline and home heating costs.

“There is a perception that we are not doing anything and will not do anything and if we do it will include a tax increase,” Heller said. “That does not help the psychology of the process.”

“If ever there was a time for bipartisan work to get something done, this is it,” Heller said. “We need to get people confident.”

Bush on Friday suggested about $150 billion in tax relief, including tax breaks for businesses and rebates for individual and families.

Lawmakers are also discussing bills that would boost food stamp payments and jobless benefits.

Proposals to pump federal dollars into job-creating infrastructure projects also have their champions.

Bush and congressional leaders including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada discussed the economy in a conference call Thursday. A knowledgeable congressional official said the parties agreed “not to lay down any political markers,” and to tone down any public disagreement over possible packages at least for now.

“I was encouraged by those discussions and I believe there is enough broad consensus that we can come up with a package that can be approved with bipartisan support,” Bush said Friday.

In a statement, Reid said, “I am encouraged and share the president’s view that we need prompt bipartisan action to strengthen our economy.”

The Washington Post reported Friday that Reid got angry during the conference call when told Bush was going to publicly discuss a stimulus plan. Reid demanded to know why Bush wasn’t waiting for a bipartisan plan. Bush and others “had to calm Reid down,” the newspaper said, citing congressional sources.

Later Thursday, Reid in a statement warned against Bush “unilaterally detailing his own approach without congressional input. The president’s strategy threatens to unnecessarily politicize the inevitable bipartisan negotiations we will need to quickly enact legislation.”

Reid’s office on Friday denied the Nevadan was steamed.

Nevada’s other four federal representatives were unanimous in backing calls for Congress to aid the economy. They joined a forming consensus that tax rebates should be part of the deal, although the size of such rebates had not been determined. Ensign suggested as much as $1,000 per individual filer.

Beyond that, the Nevadans floated various plans of what they believe would work to recharge the economy and help victims of the downturn.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she backed extending unemployment benefits beyond the 26-week limit “for those who have lost jobs in the slowdown and are still searching for work.”

Berkley also called for relief for families facing foreclosure in the mortgage crisis, as well as “temporary incentives for small business.”

Heller said he would support making permanent family and capital gains tax cuts that Congress passed in 2001 and 2003 at Bush’s urging. The tax breaks otherwise expire at the end of the decade. He said he was open to other ideas as long as they did not raise taxes.

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., said he supports business tax cuts.

“It’s best to keep money in consumers’ pockets, not in the federal treasury,” he said in a statement.

Ensign said Democrats won’t agree to extend the Bush tax cuts, so it probably will not be part of a stimulus plan.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@ or (202) 783-1760.

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