With just a few days left before Christmas for Congress to work on an economic stimulus package, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Tuesday it is important to get an agreement hammered out before the end of the year.
Rockefeller said Democrats have offered a new compromise to President George Bush that "adopts one of (the Republicans') central tenets -- a holiday on FICA," as long as the agreement also contains a generous Democratic package for the unemployed.
Democrats have proposed giving all workers and employers a one-month holiday from the Social Security payroll tax as an alternative to a GOP-proposed plan to slash certain income tax brackets.
"We're trying desperately to get something out of (the Senate Finance Committee)," Rockefeller said. "I cannot have my West Virginia constituents thrown out of work with health care issues and questions. I cannot allow that to not be offered."
The biggest question, Rockefeller said, is whether Republicans will give up their proposal for an accelerated rate of reduction on certain tax brackets. Rockefeller said the Republican proposal to move up the effective dates of the rate cuts approved earlier this year as part of the 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut bill will benefit only about 2 percent of West Virginians.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told Bush at a White House breakfast meeting of congressional leaders he "might be able to sell something" on income tax cuts to rank-and-file Democrats if the jobless assistance portion is beefed up, according to an Associated Press report.
Rockefeller said the biggest stumbling block to putting together a workable stimulus package is "fundamental differences in ideology or philosophy" between Republicans and Democrats.
Essentially, GOP leaders believe the best way to boost the economy is to give tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations, Rockefeller said. Democrats say putting money in the hands of the working man is the best answer, according to Rockefeller.
For the growing ranks of unemployed, Democrats want the 13 extra weeks of jobless benefits Bush is now proposing as well as broad health insurance assistance and more federal Medicaid matching money for states.
"I believe strongly in the unemployment insurance and health insurance for the jobless and Medicaid help for the states," Rockefeller said.
Except for a few sticking points, broad agreement is emerging on other parts of the package:
n A new round of rebate checks for lower-income people;
n Enhanced expense write-offs for small businesses and 30 percent bonus depreciation for larger ones for up to three years each;
n Extension of expiring tax breaks for businesses and individuals;
n Permission for companies to deduct current losses from taxes paid as long as five years ago, up from two years in current law.
Staff writer Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Associated Press contributed to this report.