Frist speaks on the economy

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   In his first teleconference since he was appointed Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Bill Frist, (R-Tenn.) told reporters he will not abandon health care and bioterrorism issues.
   In November Frist said he would not seek re-election to leadership roles in the U.S. Senate in order to allow him to concentrate on issues near and dear to his heart. However, the resignation of Trent Lott (R-Miss.) as Senate GOP leader propelled Frist unexpectedly into the position of leadership.
   With less time on his hands than he had anticipated a few months ago, Frist stated that he still plans on pursuing a Republican version health care reform, and strengthening the nation against bio-terrorism threats.
   "I will continue to work on those issues, and I will have the opportunity to elevate them through my role as majority leader," Frist said.
   As majority leader, Frist hopes to sway the Senate to support President Bush's economic stimulus plan. The $674 billion plan is expected to be heavily debated on the Senate floor.
   Frist said the president's plan is an economic growth and jobs package rather than an economic stimulus package. He stated that the end point of the plan is to promote the growth of the economy, dealing with the lack of availability of jobs.
   "The recession, Sept. 11, and the fallout from all of the corporate scandals, which nobody could have predicted, have affected the economy," Frist said. "The economy does continue to grow, but there are no jobs. It is a jobless recovery."
   The president's 10-year plan will come up against a package presented by the Democratic Governors Association. The Democratic plan includes $50 billion in grants to states.
   Democratic leader Sen. Tom Daschle has made several statements against the president's tax-break plan. He said America's rich will benefit the most from the plan, while middle-income citizens are neglected.
   Frist, on the other hand, has voiced his support of the president's plan. He is optimistic about Republicans' and Democrats' ability to work together to bring some economic relief to Americans.
   "The $674 billion will help families pay bills," Frist said. "As Senate Majority Leader, I hope we can work in a bipartisan manner to strengthen the economy for Americans who deserve it."
   The president has set aside half of the $674 billion for dividend exclusion. Frist said the measure was studied carefully by economists, and is necessary to prevent money from being taxed more than once.
   "Double taxation is just morally wrong," Frist said.
   Frist also believes the dividend exclusion option will increase the equity value of markets. He added that 50 percent of Americans have some type of equity and that the president's plan will benefit them greatly.