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Death Toll Rings for Stimulus Package

Without the 60 votes needed to end debate on an economic stimulus package, the Senate effectively killed a modified version of a bill proposed last fall when President Bush and lawmakers agreed economic stimulus was urgently needed.

The procedure to "invoke cloture" would have prevented a filibuster and enabled an eventual vote on the bill, which had been bogged down with amendments. When cloture fails, as it did Wednesday on a 56-39 vote, the bill is set aside to prevent never-ending speechifying aimed at denying the bill from getting to a vote.

A Republican substitute bill, a copy of the $89 billion package that passed the House last year, also failed on a 48-47 vote.

Afterward, the Senate did agree to extend unemployment benefits to laid-off workers by 13 weeks, one of the widely agreed upon provisions in the bill.

The decision to call for a cloture vote was brought by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who introduced the modified version of the stimulus package two weeks ago.

In starkly similar language, both parties blamed one another for the collapse of the bill.

"Republicans killed economic stimulus bill today, just like they have done for the last three months," Daschle said. "They killed opportunities."

"The Senate majority leader has put politics ahead of people, and it's a shame that that's been the case. And the results of that are a shame, because we have had an opportunity to do good for people who have been hurt because of Sept. 11," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

In New York to promote his homeland security budget proposals for police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians, the President Bush expressed his disappointment with the Senate's vote.

"I believe we still need to provide stimulus for economic growth so that there's jobs. People need work. And everything Congress ought to do is to take care of those who've lost their jobs, but also recognize that people want more than an unemployment check, they want a steady paycheck," Bush said.

The House passed a much larger version of an economic stimulus package twice last fall, but the Senate has wrangled for months over competing versions. Democrats rejected accelerating tax cuts passed last year as part of a 10-year, $1.35 trillion reduction.

Republicans rejected Democratic proposals for new health care subsidies, saying they prefer tax credits.

When Congress returned from its recess, Daschle proposed a slimmed-down version of the package, incorporating the items the two parties did agree on, including an extension of unemployment benefits to laid-off workers and some tax benefits for businesses aimed at speeding up job creation and capital purchases.

By then some of the wind had gone out of the package's sails, however, as Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan suggested the economy would recover with or without a stimulus.

Though the political urgency had disappeared, the administration continued to call for a deal, asserting that a bill could enable economic growth to reach 3.5 percent this year.

"We see more and more signs every day indicating that the seeds for recovery are there and only need nourishing to speed the process of putting Americans back to work," said Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

O'Neill told a Senate panel Tuesday that the $1.35 trillion cut helped the economy recover quickly from a recession that began last March and was compounded by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Democrats, however, said the president's wish to make that tax cut permanent — it will expire at the end of 2010 under current law — would primarily benefit wealthier taxpayers while siphoning away resources needed for other priorities.

"Why does the president give wealthy individuals priority?" asked Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark, D-Calif.

On Tuesday, Daschle accused Republicans of "filibustering by amendment," after they filed some 70 amendments to Daschle's bill, many of which were part of last year's stimulus package.

"I don't think there's any question they don't want a stimulus package unless it's their stimulus package. There is very little interest in working with us or negotiating some compromise," Daschle said.

But Republicans said they were ready to limit amendments and debate and that Democrats didn’t want to do this.

"What we're doing here is playing procedural politics and ignoring people," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

"There's a deal to be made here if someone wants to make an agreement but you have to have two willing parties to make an agreement," added Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn.

Bush said he hoped Daschle would reconsider pulling the bill, but even without it, the president has included some measures of the bill in his 2003 budget proposal.

Bush may find some opposition from conservatives within his own party, however. Some House Republicans say stripping the $77 billion package earmarked in Bush's budget for the stimulus measure would bring the budget within $4 billion of balance, said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz.

"If the powers that be block a stimulus bill, then a balanced budget is within reach," said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz, leader of a group of 70 House GOP conservatives.

Fox News' Jim Angle and the Associated Press contributed to this report