- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2000

Republicans' plans yesterday to pass a $250 billion tax cut nearly spun out of control in the face of an unexpected veto threat from President Clinton and opposition from members of their own party, including Rep. Bill Archer of Texas, the chairman of the House's tax-writing committee.

"While we have already reached substantial agreement in important areas … your legislation has substantial flaws in several key areas," Mr. Clinton wrote to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. "I will have no choice but to veto it."

"I will vote against this bill," Mr. Archer announced on the House floor, citing as his main objection a $1-an-hour increase in the minimum wage that it also contained. In the end, five other Republicans joined him in voting against the bill.

Mr. Hastert said earlier in the day, "We have bent over backwards to make this bill acceptable to the president." He predicted then that Mr. Clinton would sign the bill.

As for specific concerns raised by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Mr. Hastert said, "It is time for this body to quit the quibbling and come together and sign this bill."

The measure eventually passed 237-174, better than an outright rejection some Republicans feared yesterday morning, but 38 votes short of the two-thirds margin needed to overcome a veto.

The bill now faces a filibuster in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat. He objects to legislation attached to the tax bill that effectively overturns an Oregon law allowing assisted suicides.

The largest tax cuts in the bill would provide a universal deduction for the purchase of health insurance or long-term care insurance, increase the annual individual retirement account contribution limit from $2,000 to $5,000, increase the deduction companies can take for business meals, and provide a $10,000 deduction for families who take care of an adult relative. The plan also includes a package of tax breaks for small businesses and for blighted urban areas.

Republicans had assumed the bill would cause the president some heartburn, but, given muddled messages from the White House Wednesday, that he would grudgingly sign it, Republican aides said.

"I don't want to turn this into a big political fight," Mr. Clinton had said Wednesday, when asked if he would veto the tax bill over a Medicare dispute.

"You did not see the ceremonial chest pounding that typically precedes a veto threat," said one tax lobbyist.

The president wanted more money for school construction, better targeting of the health insurance breaks to lower-income families, and a series of tax credits to help increase pension investments. But the single largest objection was to a package of spending increases for Medicare providers.

Mr. Clinton expressed concern that the bill rejects "critical investments in beneficiaries and vulnerable health care providers."

Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican, wrote the Medicare portion of the bill and said if it is so bad for "vulnerable health care providers" then "why are they all writing letters of support for the bill?"

Republicans also found themselves unexpectedly facing a veto threat on the $37 billion fiscal 2001 budget for the departments of Commerce, State and Justice over legislation Mr. Clinton says does not do enough to address the needs of Hispanic immigrants.

Republicans have been willing to change how certain immigrants' applications for residency are processed, but the administration and Democrats would like to create a general amnesty for those who have been residents in the United States since 1986.

The administration also contends the bill does not include appropriate protections against the sale of Social Security numbers and does not include legislation increasing penalties for crimes motivated by bias against a person because of sex, disability or sexual orientation.

The president also called it regrettable that the "deeply flawed" bill had been attached to the District of Columbia's budget for fiscal 2001, which has not yet passed Congress.

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