WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday urged passage of at least $61 billion in new economic stimulus funding this month, but said the future of the legislation requires cooperation from Republicans in the Senate and President George W. Bush.
In a post-election press conference in which she celebrated significant Democratic gains in Congress and her party’s capture of the White House, Pelosi of California was asked about prospects in coming weeks for an economic stimulus bill.
“It depends on what the White House is going to do,” Pelosi said of the need for Bush, a Republican, to be willing to sign a bill that might pass Congress.
“We have a stimulus package on the table that I hope the Republicans in the Senate will allow to be taken up in a lame duck session,” she added, referring to a $61 billion package the House passed in late September, only to see Senate Republicans block it.
That post-election, or “lame duck,” session might be held the week of November 16, a House aide said.
But the Bush administration said Democrats had not put anything on the table yet. “We haven’t seen a stimulus plan from Democrats, so it’s not clear what their intentions are. It doesn’t look like they’ve figured that out yet,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
Pelosi has called for around $150 billion in new economic stimulus money, including funds to create construction jobs, give more aid to the states and beef up help for the poor and the unemployed. But she said she would settle, at least for now, for the $61 billion package.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Democratic congressional leaders will have to discuss legislative strategy with President-elect Barack Obama.
“However, the only way to get things done is if the White House and Senate Republicans cooperate,” Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley said.
Democrats’ success in expanding their majorities in the House and Senate in Tuesday’s election may give impetus to legislation aimed at creating new jobs quickly, even before Obama takes over as U.S. president on January 20.
“We can’t wait the several months it will take for a new administration,” said a House Democratic leadership aide who asked not to be identified. “The American people are hurting and so is the economy.”
Recently, the White House has shown somewhat more openness to a bill, but not necessarily the way Democrats were crafting it. But with the economy continuing to slump, Democrats hope they will see rising support for spending the emergency money despite record U.S. budget deficits.
Pelosi and other leading Democrats hinted at a possible piecemeal approach to stimulating the economy.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, in an interview with Reuters, spoke of three elements.
“It’s the economic program of aid to the states and increased unemployment compensation, perhaps followed up early next year by some kind of middle class and working class tax cut,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.
The third prong, Frank said, would be unfreezing credit markets and reducing home foreclosures with the continued implementation of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout bill.
In February, Congress and Bush enacted a $168 billion economic stimulus measure, largely made up of tax rebates. Democrats argue that is not enough to deal with what could be the worst U.S. economy since the Great Depression.
Obama also backs additional funds to stimulate the economy. His proposals have been estimated to cost around $190 billion.
An aide to House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said Pelosi had not discussed a new stimulus bill with him.
Additional reporting by Donna Smith, Kevin Drawbaugh and Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Vicki Allen
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