- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

House members passed a permanent extension of the $1,000 child tax credit yesterday, their final step in continuing three popular provisions of President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax-cut packages that otherwise will expire at the end of this year.

But even as those tax cuts advanced to the Senate, the upper chamber delayed a vote on the fiscal 2005 budget agreement until after Memorial Day, after it became clear Republican leaders didn’t have the votes to pass the measure.

Four Senate Republicans have said they object to language that subjects tax cuts to tougher vote requirements in the Senate than spending increases.

Congress is already five weeks beyond the April 15 deadline for passing a budget, but Senate Republicans said putting off the vote was better than suffering a certain defeat.

“I want to consider all the options,” said Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Budget Committee, saying the budget was “close” to getting passed.

The House, meanwhile, passed its permanent extension of the child tax credit, 271-139, with 58 Democrats joining all but 3 Republicans in supporting it.

The three Republican dissenters were Amo Houghton of New York, Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico and Terry Everett of Alaska.

“This is about children. It’s about families,” said Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, Connecticut Republican, recalling her own struggles as she and her husband sought to raise their children.

The tax cut, totaling $228 billion over 10 years, would make the $1,000-per-child tax credit permanent, would allow even those who don’t pay income tax to get the credit, and would expand full coverage to include couples making up to $250,000.

Under current law the credit will revert to $700 per child at the end of this year, rise back to $1,000 in 2010, then expire.

The House turned back a Democratic proposal that would have indexed the credit amount to increase with inflation and made continuation beyond 2010 dependent on whether the federal government was running a deficit.

The child tax credit is the latest tax cut the House has voted to make permanent, following earlier votes on making permanent the new 10 percent income tax bracket and a reduction in taxes paid by couples, commonly called the “marriage penalty.”

Like the child tax credit, parts of both of those tax cuts were scheduled to expire at the end of this calendar year.

The Senate has yet to take up any of those bills or a fourth bill, a one-year fix that prevents more families from having to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

And Democrats said they don’t believe that will happen.

“It isn’t going to pass the Senate. I don’t even know how you make it in order in the Senate,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat. “What we’re doing today is in a sense going through the motions.”

“Republicans have cynically put popular tax legislation on the floor, and dared Democrats to oppose it — knowing full well the only reason Democrats would cast ‘no’ vote against the bills is they are not paid for,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

But House Republicans expect the Senate to pass at least a bill making permanent the 10 percent income tax bracket, and, if the upper chamber does that, the House will insist on the other bills as part of a conference committee, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said earlier this week.

Yesterday’s bill is the only one of the four tax cuts that didn’t receive majority support from House Democrats. The 10 percent income tax bracket changes passed 344-76; the AMT adjustment passed 333-89; and the marriage penalty elimination passed 323-95.

As for the budget, the House on Wednesday passed the $2.4 trillion plan, 216-213. It had received final approval from House and Senate conference committee negotiators earlier in the week.

But almost all Democrats oppose the agreement, and four Senate Republicans are expected to vote against the measure, denying Republicans the majority necessary to pass it.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island object to the final form of the compromise agreement, particularly the House provision that makes it easier to cut taxes than to raise spending.

Under the rule, it would take 60 votes in the Senate to pass spending increases that aren’t offset by accompanying tax increases or spending cuts, but a simple majority to pass tax cuts.

Even a personal plea to support tax cuts by President Bush yesterday, who met behind closed doors with both House and Senate Republicans, wasn’t enough to persuade the four holdouts.

Republican leaders said they will try again when they return.

Mr. Chafee said he also doesn’t see any room for compromise since what he wants to avoid is “not anything the House would accept, which is tax cuts.”

And Mr. McCain joked that barring something drastic, nothing will change.

“I might get killed,” he said, before pausing and remembering who would name his replacement. “We’ve got a Democratic governor, so that wouldn’t help.”

“Other than that, I don’t know what other action can take place. I don’t expect my constituents to beat up on me.”

Mr. McCain continues to be frequently quoted by Democrats, and several of them praised him on the House floor during the tax debate yesterday for criticizing his party’s fiscal policies.

On Wednesday, Mr. McCain said that “I fondly remember a time when real Republicans stood for fiscal responsibility.”

Rep. Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey Democrat, called him “a Republican voice in the wilderness.”

Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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