WASHINGTON -- With Congress returning this week, top Bush administration officials prodded the Democrat-controlled Senate on Sunday to act on a stimulus proposal, and defended the president's emphasis on corporate tax cuts as a cure for the limping economy.
The Senate's top Democrat said he was troubled by the idea of corporate tax cuts at a time when companies are laying off workers.
''They're letting people off in numbers that we've got to be concerned about,'' Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said on ''Fox News Sunday.'' ''I think it would be a tragedy if we left this session of Congress without helping the unemployed at all.''
But White House economic adviser Larry Lindsey said: ''We have to start creating paychecks instead of unemployment checks.'' He warned anew that President Bush will veto spending proposals he views as excessive.
''What we have to do is target tax relief to the sectors of the economy that need it most, that can use it most, put more money in consumers' pockets and avoid this excessive spending binge that some people in the Senate seem to be on,'' Lindsey said.
The exchanges on the Sunday news shows, and gaping differences between Republicans and Democrats on how to revive the economy, preview a fierce struggle as Congress rushes to adjourn before the December holidays.
Bush and Democrats generally agree on the need to extend unemployment benefits, issue a new batch of tax rebate checks and accelerate depreciation tax write-offs for businesses.
However, Democrats have balked at the White House's call to accelerate the income tax rate cuts approved earlier this year and repeal the corporate alternative minimum tax.
The depreciation and corporate alternative minimum tax measures would provide 300,000 new jobs, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said Sunday.
The alternative minimum tax ensures businesses that take many deductions and credits still pay some taxes. The administration believes abolishing it and speeding up depreciation timetables would free up money for businesses, which could then hire more workers.
''What the president has recommended is really not about tax cuts for big corporations, it's about accelerating depreciation for businesses of all sizes,'' O'Neill said on CNN's ''Late Edition.'' ''Most businesses in the United States are small businesses. They would all have more cash to provide job security and job creation.''
Accelerating depreciation write-offs ''seems to be exactly what the economy needs to shore up the business sector,'' Lindsey said.
O'Neill appeared on two shows despite bruised ribs sustained during a Thanksgiving weekend football game with his grandchildren. ''It hurts to breathe,'' he said.
He said the stimulus package ''should not be about the partisan division.''
Yet he sharply criticized the Democrat-led Senate for its handling of the issue. ''The Senate has dithered an awful long time in responding to the president's request for a stimulus package,'' he said. ''The Senate needs to get its act together.''
The GOP-controlled House has approved a $100 billion stimulus package weighted heavily in favor of tax relief.
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