ANDREW TAYLOR Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
Top House leaders and Tr e a s u r y S e c r e t a r y He n r y Pa u l s o n Wednesday tallied the cost of measures to jolt the economy out of its slump as the three sought a swift bipartisan deal on a recovery package that could move through Congress within weeks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, are taking the lead in Capitol Hill negotiations, with the centerpiece of the measure expected to be a tax rebate similar to, but bigger than, the $300-$600 checks sent out in the summer of 2001. The two huddled for a lengthy working breakfast at the Capitol with Paulson, Bush's point man on the package, and planned another gathering this afternoon. "We looked at a lot of different options," Boehner told reporters, adding that the threesome reached "no conclusions or agreements." He said it would "require a great leap of faith" from both parties to find common ground. Senior lawmakers in both parties met on Tuesday with President Bush, who has proposed a stimulus plan worth about $150 bill ion. Combined wi th Iraq war costs and decreasing corporate tax revenues because of the economic slump, a package that size would more than double last year's deficit spending of $163 billion, according to new congressional budget estimates. Bush expressed optimism that his administration can reach quick agreement with Congress. "I believe we can find common ground to get something done that's big enough, effective enough so that an economy that is inherently strong gets a boost to make sure that this uncertainty doesn't translate into more economic woes for our workers and small business people," Bush said Tuesday in the Cabinet Room. Pelosi, Boehner and Paulson are working on hammering out details. Senate leaders Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have agreed to stand back and let the House take the lead in the talks with the administration. In the Senate, Reid said in an interview, "There are too many cooks in the kitchen. Send something over to us and we'll try to move it as quickly as we can." Perhaps the most important obstacle to overcome is differences of opinion over who should receive rebate checks. Democrats want to deliver help to low-income workers who may not pay income taxes because they make too little or benefit from tax credits such as the child tax credit. Thus far, talks have focused on setting the parameters of a bill combining rebates with GOP-sought tax breaks for businesses, as wel l as Democrat ic-backed help for the unemployed and those on food stamps. Talks cont inued as the nonpar t i san Congressional Budget Office, citing the weakening economy, estimated that the budget deficit for the current year will jump to about $250 billion. That figure does not reflect at least $100 billion in likely additional red ink from the deficit-financed economic stimulus measure.