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House Approves Stimulus Plan Bill Includes Unemployment Benefits and Business Tax Breaks

By Janet Hook
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- washington

After months of fruitless partisan bickering, the House Thursday overwhelmingly approved a stripped-down bill to bolster the economy by providing new unemployment benefits and modest business tax breaks -- including one eagerly sought by high-technology industries.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to pass the bill Friday, and President Bush said he would sign it.

The 417-3 vote in the House broke a stubborn impasse over economic policy, as Republicans backed down from the more controversial tax cuts that Bush sought to spur job creation. Democrats agreed to accept more limited benefits for the unemployed than they wanted.

Nearly six months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hurt an already struggling economy, pressure has mounted for Congress to move ahead with the short list of anti-recession measures that both parties embrace.

Bush quickly praised Thursday’s House action, even though the compromise bill leaves out some of his top tax-cutting priorities. “We’ve had too much nonmovement on this important issue. And it’s time to go. Time to get a bill,” he said.

“This is the last game in town,” House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., said as he pushed for the bill’s passage. “We all play today or we go home to our constituents and say we did nothing to help you, because we let politics matter more than your economic future.”

Indeed, the congressional debate raged inconclusively for so long that it may have outlasted the recession. Shortly before the House vote, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan gave Congress an upbeat assessment of the economy, saying, “An economic expansion is already under way.”

The legislation would pump $51 billion into the economy this year, $43 billion in 2003 and $29 billion in 2004, congressional analysts say.

The compromise measure would allow jobless people who exhaust their 26 weeks of unemployment benefits to get 13 more weeks of aid. The bill’s business tax breaks aim to encourage investment in equipment and software which is still suffering even as much of the rest of the economy improves.