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Senate Majority leader George Mitchell compared President Bush to Herbert Hoover in his handling of unemployment Thursday and pledged to block any attempt to water down Democratic jobless-benefits proposals.

Bush said he, too, wanted action extending benefits because ``people are hurting' as recovery from the recession lags. He accused the Democrats of playing politics with the issue.There was no direct comment from Bush about the latest Democratic proposal, by Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, which would pay for extended benefits by limiting the ability of many well-to-do people to delay full payment of their income taxes.

But White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said of the Democrats, ``It looks like they're coming around to our way of thinking,' an apparent reference to Bush's demand that the cost of additional benefits be covered by a revenue source other than borrowing.

And House Whip Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said Bentsen's plan was ``certainly worth looking at.'

Mitchell was pressing to pay for the benefits a different way - by slashing foreign aid $5.9 billion over the next five years.

That idea was opposed by Republicans, who argued that it violated last year's budget agreement, which forbids cutting foreign aid and using the money for other types of spending.

Congressional Republican leaders met with Bush at the White House, and Senate GOP leader Bob Dole said unemployment benefits are the most important thing on the lawmakers' immediate agenda.

``We ought to sit down and work it out in a bipartisan way without busting the budget in paying for it,' Dole said. ``And I hope we can do that in the next few days.'

Mitchell, however, was decidedly partisan in his comments.

``Not since Herbert Hoover has an American president been so slow to see the needs of Americans, so willing to overlook the hardships of ordinary people,' he said.

Bush has succeeded in blocking Democratic efforts to extend jobless benefits past current limits, he said, ``but ask the families who've exhausted their unemployment insurance about that victory. For them, it's a defeat, all the more painful because it was inflicted on them by their own president.'

``We will not accept any level of insurance coverage less than that provided in the bill the president vetoed,' Mitchell said. ``Not one week less. Not one day less.'

Speaking hours before Mitchell's speech, Bush said, ``People are hurting and they ought to be helped. ... I get a little annoyed at the politics being played at the expense of people who do not have benefits and need them.' The president offered no new proposals. But he told a business group, ``I am still concerned about the economy, that it is not as strong as, obviously, we would like it to be.'


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