- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Republicans last night successfully overrode Democratic objections to begin debate on a budget outline for fiscal 2002 based upon the plan offered by President Bush in February.

The budget resolution, which the Senate is expected to debate through the week, provides $1.9 trillion in spending for fiscal 2002, a 4 percent increase over fiscal 2001, and calls for a 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut. It will also allow a $60 billion "surplus rebate" in fiscal 2001.

"In this softening economy, we think it would be irresponsible for us to delay going forward with the budget resolution for three weeks or four weeks or whatever," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said yesterday morning.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, said, "President Bush deserves to have his budget and his tax plan considered by the U.S. Senate."

That's an argument Republicans have used on reluctant colleagues in their party. Republican leaders have been telling Republican senators who are opposed to parts of Mr. Bush's budget plan that voting for the resolution is less a vote on legislation and more a vote of confidence in the president and for Republican control of the Senate.

"I think it's important that all Republicans give the president a chance," Mr. Lott said.

So far, though, Republican leaders have have failed to win two key senators Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont and Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island both of whom were called into a private meeting on the budget with Vice President Richard B. Cheney at his Senate office yesterday afternoon.

Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, argued that it is premature to vote on Mr. Bush's plan without the details.

"The Senate was designed to be the place … where calmer and cooler reflection could promote further analysis," Mr. Conrad said.

Mr. Bush released a broad outline of his budget proposal in early March, which, Mr. Conrad noted, was too vague for either of Congress' estimating agencies to review. A more detailed budget is expected to be published next Monday, after the Senate has voted.

Nonetheless, Republicans are steaming ahead with the plan, citing Congress' accelerated consideration of President Clinton's inaugural budget in 1993.

Then, as Republicans intend to do this year, Democrats in the House and Senate passed their budget resolution a week before Mr. Clinton's detailed budget plan arrived on Capitol Hill.

To block Republicans this week, Democrats had considered a variety of delaying tactics.

One such tactic would have meant objecting formally to language in a Senate-written budget resolution allowing fast-track consideration of the $1.6 trillion tax cut. That fast-track consideration, first allowed under the 1974 Budget Act, will allow Republicans to prevent a filibuster on a tax-cut bill later this year.

Republicans sidestepped that parliamentary tactic by simply bringing up the budget resolution without the fast-track authority. That leaves Democrats without "a silver bullet," in the words of one Democratic aide, but also means Republicans must later win a vote to add the tax cut to the budget.

For the week ahead, Mr. Lott predicted a free-flowing debate, reminiscent of last week's work on campaign finance reform.

"You get started. You have amendments. You debate them. Some of them lose, some of them win. You come back later and modify some of the ones you've already voted on," Mr. Lott said.

Still, he predicted that the budget resolution will pass by week's end, in time for a scheduled two-week recess. That would allow Congress to proceed with specific tax and spending bills in late April and May, Mr. Lott said.

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