WASHINGTON – President Bush said Friday that newly released jobless figures underscore the need for Congress to quickly pass an economic stimulus package.
The Senate is working on a smaller variation of a House-passed Republican plan that would provide $100 billion in business tax breaks, unemployment relief and a tax rebate for low-income earners.
Unemployment rates rose to 5.4 percent in October. More than 415,000 employees were laid off last month, adding further strain to the already-suffering economy.
Bush said he wants Congress to pass a bill by the end of the month and said the White House will work with Congress "to extend and expand unemployment benefits to those whose lives have been affected by the attacks."
He added that the economic stimulus package needs to "cause the job base to firm up and expand."
A group of Democratic senators said Friday that any package coming out of the Senate must include more money for health and unemployment insurance for displaced Americans.
"It would be unconscionable for this Congress to go home and pass a stimulus package or further help to any other industry without recognizing the fundamental needs of Americans. And if you want to stimulate America and help our economy, then you put cash in the hands of the people who have lived by its values, paid their taxes and done the job of making America strong," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Thursday he thought Congress could get a bill on the president's desk by Nov. 30, but the final plan must include greater aid to the unemployed and about $20 billion in spending for homeland security, with less emphasis on tax cuts.
"I'm very hopeful that we could be on the floor with this debate as early as next week," Daschle said.
Daschle noted that the Senate Finance Committee intends Tuesday to begin considering a $70 billion plan by the chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. The plan splits the cost between tax cuts for individuals and business and assistance for the jobless.
But how Democrats and Republicans will resolve their differences remains to be seen.
Republican Finance Committee aides said some GOP lawmakers are willing to increase the House bill authorization for $3 billion in grants to states for the unemployed to as much as $10 billion to address Democratic concerns about health insurance.
Rep. Bill Thomas, author of the House plan, predicted Congress will pass a repeal of the corporate alternative minimum tax included in his bill. AMT was originally imposed to force companies to pay some tax burden rather than zeroing out their deductibles. The rollback offers nearly $30 billion in relief to 17,500 corporations who pay the baseline tax. Thomas said refunding AMT will free up capital for investment, hiring and stock dividends.
Thomas also blamed Daschle for any future suffering of businesses and workers.
"Every day that someone is in pain is laid at the foot of Tom Daschle," said Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "He wanted the job. He has the job. And now his job is to produce a product."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.