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Bush Wants Free Trade as Legacy

Hoping to line up a final legislative victory before leaving office, President Bush could support a Democratic economic stimulus package if it is tied to a vote on the Colombia free-trade agreement, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino signaled on Wednesday.

Democrats and Republicans continue to disagree on the components and price tag of a forthcoming stimulus measure, which some have estimated could cost as much as $300 billion. Bush has said he would be open to a stimulus package, but that support could solidify if Congress also allows votes on some outstanding free-trade pacts, Perino said.

“We have some things that we think would stimulate the economy that they could do right away, such as vote ‘yes or no’ on the free-trade agreements that we have in front of them, especially the Colombia free-trade agreement,” Perino said. “When it comes to the stimulus package, we are open to ideas, as we’ve said.”

Perino emphasized, however, that Bush has yet to see a plan from Congressional Democrats “that would actually stimulate the economy.” She said the majority party’s calls for infrastructure investments would incur a lot more deficit spending, which “doesn’t necessarily help anybody in the near term.”

Many claims about transportation investments helping to rebuild the economy “are overblown,” argued the White House spokeswoman. “They take a long time for the money to get out into the system.”

Perino said she expects Congress to hold a lame-duck session for about a week beginning on Nov. 17. Democratic leaders have suggested a vote on a stimulus package could occur as early as the first or second day of the post-election session.

“I think if they put their minds to it, they could do a lot in a week,” Perino said. “I just don’t see a lot of activity or conversation on their behalf, except for a few letters here and there. I think for the most part, so far, a lot of that talk has been campaign talking points rather than any serious discussion about how to stimulate the economy.”

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