Democrats may push stopgap economic stimulus

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 3, 2008 5:30pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in Congress, unable to convince the outgoing Bush administration to support a broad economic stimulus bill, are looking at a stopgap measure to feed the poor and help them get health care, congressional aides said.

The Bush administration has said that before new stimulus moves are considered, more time was needed to gauge the impact of a $168 billion stimulus bill enacted in February and a $700 billion financial industry rescue approved in October.

But more recent support from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for some type of economic stimulus measure may have softened the White House's opposition somewhat.

With the House of Representatives and Senate poised for a session next week, possibly to consider an additional bailout of U.S. automakers, House Democratic aides said a short-term economic stimulus measure could be added to the agenda.

"We are hopeful the president would reconsider his opposition and work with Democrats in Congress to provide emergency food assistance to millions of Americans, along with aid to states for critical health care services," Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said in a telephone interview.

Another House aide said it was unlikely a stopgap economic stimulus bill would be attached to any auto industry bailout.

In September, the House passed a nearly $61 billion economic stimulus bill, only to see it die in the Senate amid opposition from Republicans and a veto threat by President George W. Bush.

But Democrats did succeed in winning enactment of an extension of unemployment benefits and they might use the same piecemeal formula to push food and health care aid for the poor, especially at a time when Congress might come to the aid of three huge automakers.

Since September, Pelosi has talked about the need for a stimulus bill much larger than $61 billion, given the sinking U.S. economy, which is now believed to have been in recession since December 2007.

Aides have confirmed that as much as $500 billion was under review, with the goal of having it ready for Barack Obama to sign into law when the Democrat becomes president on January 20.

Elshami gave no estimate of the possible size of a short-term stimulus bill.

The bill passed by the House in September included $2.6 billion in food assistance to help the elderly, disabled and poor. This year, some 27.8 million individuals and 12.5 million households received food stamps.

Additional federal aid to states struggling to cover rising health care costs for the poor could cost around $38 billion, according to estimates earlier this year.

Pelosi discussed the stopgap measures with governors on Monday and told reporters she raised the issue with Bush the same day. She did not say whether Bush indicated he could support the legislation.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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