White House May Go Beyond Stimulus Plan

Markets around the world have plunged since Friday, when President Bush proposed help for the U.S. economy. Now the White House says it won't rule out additional measures to strengthen the U.S. economy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

President Bush meant to be reassuring when he proposed help for the economy on Friday. But since then, markets around the world have plunged. The damage continues this morning on Wall Street, and now the White House says it will not rule out additional measures to strengthen the U.S. economy.

NPR's Brian Naylor is covering this story.

And, Brian, the president's plan was thought to be pretty aggressive when he made it. How about now?

BRIAN NAYLOR: Well, now it doesn't look so much - at least the markets don't think so much of it. So there's talk about maybe boosting it a little bit. The White House says they're not closing the door to such an idea. We haven't really seen a plan yet - first, I should say, from the White House - other than the fact that the president came out the other day and said it should amount to about one percent of the gross domestic product that was put about $145 billion.

So, you know, it's anyone's guess is to how much more it - how much higher it could go, but, you know, Congress has not shown any hesitancy about spending more money. And in a case like this where it could be argued that it's truly justified, it's not clear what the upper limit would be.

INSKEEP: I'm remembering yet another crisis situation after 9/11, the president asked for I think it may have been $20 billion in emergency spending and that Congress said that's fine, $40 billion.

NAYLOR: Yeah, right. So, yeah, it's hard to know exactly how high the bidding is going to get here. But I wouldn't be surprised to see quite a bit more than what's on the table right now.

INSKEEP: Now, let's remember what kinds of aid were being discussed. Even though the president was not very specific, we were talking about rebates of some kind, tax rebates, right?

NAYLOR: Yeah. They're talking about perhaps eliminating the lowest tax bracket that - which would amount to rebates of $800 for individuals, $1,600 for couples. That seems to be baseline, and then there's all kinds of things that you could - that you're talking about beyond that. Republicans and the president also talked about - Republicans in Congress - the president talked about tax breaks for businesses to encourage investment.

Democrats say that, you know, the $800 rebate is not going to help those at the very lowest end of the scale who don't pay any income tax and so they want to see things like unemployment benefits extended. They want to see food stamp eligibility increased. And there's also talk about some infrastructure spending. I should say that earlier, or as we speak, the director of the congressional budget office is testifying in a Senate hearing, and he said, you know, logistically, it's going to be several months before the IRS can act on any kind of tax rebates. So it's not clear how soon this money will get pumped into the economy, but Congress wants to act ASAP.

INSKEEP: Does this week's news make it any easier for Republicans and Democrats to get past their differences and pass something?

NAYLOR: Well, it's been interesting, Steve, because last year there was such gridlock. There were arguments over all of the spending bills and pretty much anything else that came up. So far this year, at least on this issue, there's been an amazing amount of bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done, and there hasn't been a whole lot of the kind of bickering back and forth that characterized last year.

INSKEEP: Although it comes back to the point you just made, when Congress acts quickly that's still a matter of months.

NAYLOR: Well, that's right. And I mean, there's talk about getting a package together by the president's State of the Union message, which is next week. I don't know if that's realistic. But they are talking about doing something by the end of February.

INSKEEP: Brian, thanks very much.

NAYLOR: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Brian Naylor, who covers Congress.

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