- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

The Senate preserved room for $626 billion in new tax cuts in its budget bill yesterday, delivering a solid win for President Bush's plan to eliminate the double taxation on corporate dividends.
The tax-cut number was set after the Senate narrowly approved an amendment stripping $100 billion out of President Bush's proposed $726 billion tax package. But Republicans beat back an attempt to slice the president's tax cut in half.
Democrats and the few Republicans who have chided the White House for not putting a price tag on the war could claim a victory of sorts, however. The $100 billion taken from the tax cut will be placed in escrow to pay for the actions in Iraq.
"No one is really certain how much the war with Iraq will actually cost," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat. "But we can be certain that such a war will not be free."
The Senate was expected to finish considering an array of amendments to the budget late last night or today, after a marathon voting session stretched late into the night.
An amendment sponsored by liberal Republicans and centrist Democrats to pare the economic-growth package to $350 billion over 10 years was defeated 62-38, but support for it was actually much greater.
Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, had been lobbying hard the past two weeks to form a coalition with Republicans who wanted a smaller growth package and Democrats who wanted no tax cut at all.
Mr. Breaux said he was able to woo many of the hard-line opponents of tax cuts to his side but ultimately came up one vote short. As a result, the coalition collapsed and those senators he had convinced went back to their original position.
"In voting against the $350 billion tax cut for those who thought that was too much we ended up getting $626 billion," Mr. Breaux said. "So the only way to reduce that was to vote for our amendment. That didn't happen."
Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine was among just two Republicans voting for the smaller growth package. She said she would vote for the full $626 billion plan if that is the only choice she has but will try to whittle it down again later in the year.
"This was a disappointing vote that saw our best chance to reduce the tax cut to a responsible size fall short," Mrs. Snowe said. "I intend to remain focused on identifying the most effective ways to encourage growth in our economy in the short term, while preventing growth in budget deficits in the long term when the Senate Finance Committee crafts its bill later this spring."
Late yesterday afternoon, Assistant Democratic Leader Harry Reid suggested ending the marathon session because a few senators are recovering from surgery and Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, needs to care for his ailing wife.
"We're going to send men to their deaths by doing it at this pace," Mr. Byrd said.
Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, pointed out that many of the Democratic amendments were "repetitive," suggesting the minority was wasting time.
"I know people want to be home with their families, but we have to finish," Mr. Nickles said.
An amendment offered by Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, to increase homeland-security spending by $3.5 billion this year passed 97-0. A proposal by Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, to increase funding for special education by $970 million next year and $2.3 billion in 2005 passed 89-10.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, gave the anti-tax-cut caucus a chance to be counted. His amendment to kill the whole growth package with no conditions for reinstating it in the future failed 77-22. Supporters of the Hollings amendment were all Democrats, with the exceptions of Sens. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, and James M. Jeffords, Vermont Independent.
The House passed its version of the federal budget at 2:54 a.m. yesterday on a largely party-line vote of 215 to 212. House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, was able to gain the support of liberals in his party by restoring cuts in Medicare and veterans benefits.
The House budget contains less spending than the Senate version but includes a bigger tax cut of $1.4 trillion through 2013.
"As we engage in action to ensure freedom and security, it is imperative that we stay focused on important domestic priorities, including creating jobs and strengthening economic growth at home," said Mr. Bush in a written statement. "With passage of the budget resolution, the House has spoken clearly that future economic growth and job creation requires passing the bold plan that I proposed."
A final, unified budget is expected to be out of conference committee and ready for floor votes by April 11.

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