President Bush's chief negotiator on an economic aid deal said Sunday the Senate should quickly get behind a plan or risk drawing the resentment of a frustrated public.
The president and House leaders have agreed on a proposal to provide tax rebate
checks to 117 million families and give businesses $50 billion in incentives to invest in new plants and equipment. The goal is to help head off a recession and boost consumer confidence.
"I don't think the Senate is going to want to derail that deal," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said. "And I don't think the American people are going to have much patience for anything that would slow down the process."
But many senators say they are entitled to their ideas and that they never agreed to be deferential to the House and the White House on the final terms. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed that the negotiations should move through the House first, but he and other senators still want to have input.
The Senate is considering adding such elements as extending unemployment benefits for workers whose benefits have run out, boosting home heating subsidies, raising food stamp benefits and approving money for public works projects.
"We've got to take care of the people who are losing their jobs with more unemployment. We may have to look at food stamps for people who are falling out of the middle class," said New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate.
When asked if such ideas would be deal-breakers, Paulson said he did not "want to cast a shadow on this rare bipartisan moment."
"I believe that what we've got here is something that will work and will work quickly and more quickly than some other alternatives," Paulson said. "And again, once you start considering additions -- the food stamps, unemployment insurance and so on -- it's a slippery slope, and there is a real danger that we're going to bog down and screech to a stop."
Paulson negotiated the deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. The secretary said some of the elements the Senate is considering may have merit but were excluded from the current deal to keep it simple and targeted.
"Complexity is our enemy," Paulson said.
"I believe that the House leaders were very decisive in keeping it simple," he added. "And I believe and I'm optimistic that the Senate leaders will do the same."
The president, too, has pushed the Senate to act swiftly. The White House is trying to strike a balance -- respecting the right of the Senate to influence the legislation, but keeping the pressure on so that no momentum is lost in giving a boost to a sagging economy.
The administration hopes to start getting rebate checks out in May, assuming that Congress acts in the next few weeks.
Paulson said the economic program would boost job creation, consumer spending and confidence in the stock market.
In another appeal to Congress, Paulson said: "Bipartisan agreement -- implemented -- I think will show the American people that Republicans and Democrats are putting the economic security of the American people ahead of their own political interests."
Among others offering views on the economic plan, Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee said Sunday it should include money for public works.
Paulson said he knows that idea has some support, but he does not agree with it. He said the views of the presidential candidates tend to look ahead to next year.
"What we're again focused on here is something simple to get money into the economy quickly to make a difference, and infrastructure spending doesn't do that," Paulson said.