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Consumers Fret About War, Jobs
       NEW YORK (Reuters) - The latest snapshot of U.S. consumers showed confidence was near decade lows even before the grim realities of war in Iraq invaded TV screens, and pervasive worries about jobs could stifle any relief rally once it's over. Being glued to the news also took a toll on chain store sales last week in what economists have come to call the "CNN effect," although the long-awaited advent of spring-like Chartering a business aircraftweather dragged some from their couches. Another report out on Tuesday showed the red hot housing market was chilled by the harsh winter weather of February. But once again economic news took a back seat to the drama unfolding in Iraq as financial markets were roiled by reports of a popular uprising in the Iraqi city of Basra. Equities headed higher after Monday's rout with the Dow Jones industrials average rising 65.5 points or 0.8 percent to 8,280.23. The S&P 500 gained 10.51 points to 874.74. Oil and gold prices eased on the Basra reports, but Treasuries rallied late in the day when the Senate surprised markets by voting to cut President Bush's proposed $726 billion tax cutting plan to just $350 billion. Bond traders have been worried that chopping taxes will inflate an already ballooning budget deficit and lead to ever greater government borrowing. The White House touted the tax cuts as the key part of its economic recovery plans but analysts have always doubted it would provide much real stimulus, at least in the short run. The Conference Board's U.S. consumer confidence index fell to 62.5 in March from 64.8 in February, although such gloomy results have lost much of their impact on markets since consumers have kept spending even while complaining endlessly. Still, analysts did note that the Conference Board's measure of "jobs hard to get" deteriorated yet again, stoking worries that this month's payrolls report will show little if any recovery from February's huge 308,000 fall.

US Senate slash more money from Bush's tax package
       WASHINGTON, March 25 (Xinhuanet) -- The US Senate voted Tuesday to slash more than half of the 726-billion-dollar tax package proposed by President George W. Bush. A week after refusing to do so, the US Senate unexpectedly voted 51-48 to reduce the tax reduction's price tag to 350 billion dollars through 2015. Analysts said that the vote dealt a blow to the keystone of President Bush's economic recovery plan. President Bush has said his plan, which would eliminate taxes on corporate dividends and reduce income taxes, is needed to create jobs, boost investment and spur the slumbering economy. The vote was a major victory for Democrats in the US Congress. Joined by some moderate Republicans, they have been arguing that atax cut of the magnitude Bush wants makes no sense at a time when US federal deficits are expected to surge to a record high and when US troops are engaged in a war with Iraq. It came on the same day that President Bush formally sent the US Congress his request for 74.7 billion dollars to pay the initial costs of the war and for other expenses in the war on terrorism. The setback for the US president came a day before the US Senate planned to vote final passage on a budget blueprint for fiscal year of 2004 which totals 2.2 trillion dollars.

Signs of Federal Help Boost U.S. Airlines
       WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) - The leader of the U.S. Senate predicted on Tuesday Congress would grant aid to ailing U.S. airlines, sparking a rally in stocks of the carriers weighed down by an Iraq war travel slump. Remarks by new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist were the first concrete indication that aid might emerge from Washington as airlines' unprecedented financial distress is worsened by the Middle East conflict. How much and when is not known. "I think it is likely that either in the supplemental or some other form, relief will be given to the aviation industry," Frist, a Tennessee Republican. President Bush on Tuesday formally asked Congress for $75 billion for the war effort, but airline aid was not included in that request. Shares of major U.S. carriers surged on Frist's comments. The American Stock Exchange's airline index .XAL rose 3 percent, while the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 0.8 percent. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain said a meeting would be held in the coming days between Bush administration officials and key senators to discuss whether airline aid belonged in the funding package for the war. McCain said it was a tough decision as other industries were also hurting. "We're proceeding on the assumption that the burden of proof needs to be provided by the airlines" on the need for relief, the Arizona Republican told reporters. Airline industry experts cautioned about getting too excited over the impending aid. "There's an indication (of aid), but there's a long way to go," said one aircraft financing expert. "There's a lot of things in play here."

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