Bush, Congress Seek 'Common Ground' on Economy As the stock market falters, congressional leaders meet with President Bush, and lawmakers hear from Congressional Budget Office chief Peter Orszag, seeking agreement on how to stimulate the economy.
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Bush, Congress Seek 'Common Ground' on Economy

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Bush, Congress Seek 'Common Ground' on Economy

Bush, Congress Seek 'Common Ground' on Economy

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

There was more turmoil in the financial markets today, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing more than 100 points. For a time, it was down some 400 points. We're going to begin this hour with the reaction from Washington. The Federal Reserve Board cut a key interest rate by three-quarters of a point, expressing its concern about the possibility of a recession. And President Bush met with congressional leaders to try to build a consensus on legislation to stimulate the economy.

NPR's Brian Naylor begins our coverage.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Mr. Bush, seated between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said he was confident that all sides would be able to reach agreement on an economic stimulus proposal.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe we can find a common ground to get something done that's big enough and effective enough so that an economy that is inherently strong gets a boost.

NAYLOR: When Capitol Hill lawmakers continue to discuss the parameters of the stimulus package, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer praised the Feds' earlier action and said Congress should follow suit.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): It is obvious from today's news that both the markets are volatile. The Federal Reserve has taken very significant action today and the way I put it is, we need to do something that's simple that everybody can understand that's fast and it's focused.

NAYLOR: And while lawmakers are focused on the idea of putting cash in the hands of consumers, there are still no consensus on how best to do that.

Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana, who chairs the finance committee, suggested not only giving rebates to individuals and couples but giving more to families with children.

Senator MAX BAUCUS (Democrat, Montana; Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance): So, a couple and two or three children to get additional, say, a $400 bonus per child in addition to the, say, $400 or $500 payment an individual can get or say, $800 or $1,000 check with a couple (unintelligible).

NAYLOR: There were some notes of caution being heard on the Hill today. One was that people shouldn't head to their mailboxes just yet. The director of the Congressional Budget Office, Peter Orszag, told the Senate Finance panel that while any stimulus should be approved quickly to get money into the economy as soon as possible, the IRS might not be able to cooperate.

Mr. PETER ORSZAG (Director, Congressional Budget Office): A major administrative issue with rebates involves when the checks could go out given that the IRS is busy with tax filing season. It will be a major challenge to issue checks before May or June at the very earliest.

NAYLOR: Orszag said distributing rebate checks later in the year would likely have a more pronounced effect on spending for next Christmas spun(ph) to a little in the short term.

Meanwhile, fiscal conservatives in Congress are warning their colleagues not to get carried away. Here is Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire; Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Budget): And so I just wanted to raise this sort of red flag of reason before we step onto this slippery slope of a stimulus package, which could easily end up being primarily a spending package for the purposes of addressing whatever anybody happens to deem to be a good political spending issue.

NAYLOR: Gregg also said that boosting consumer spending would likely have the effect of stimulating the Chinese economy, which produces many of the consumer goods that might be purchased with tax rebates.

Mr. Bush said he was realistic about how much time it will take Congress to send him a stimulus proposal. Senate Majority Leader Reid said he hoped it could be accomplished in the next three weeks.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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