- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Vice President Richard B. Cheney yesterday cast his first tie-breaking vote in the Senate, backing a plan to increase Medicare spending by $300 billion over 10 years while protecting President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut.

The Republican leadership secured the support of most wavering party members by warning that defeat would essentially hand over control of the Senate to Democrats.

"We have not spared that [argument] as part of our rhetoric with our colleagues," Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said on the second day of what is expected to be five days' work in revising the budget resolution passed last week by the House. "It is the beginning of where [Mr. Bush] wants to take the country."

The amendment in question sets aside twice the amount proposed by Mr. Bush for a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. But Republicans considered it a better alternative than a Democratic amendment that would have done the same but also reduced the president's $1.6 trillion tax-cut plan by $150 billion to make up the difference.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, predicted the Democratic amendment was just the first of an onslaught of proposed revisions attempting to reduce the president's tax-cut plan by increasing spending on politically popular programs.

"It's the beginning of a tax-and-spend approach here on the floor for the next three days," Mr. Domenici said, adding, "I hope on our side we'd stay fast."

Democrats, who argued that the tax cut was dangerously large and tilted toward the rich, readily admitted that would be their tactic.

"We know the votes are stacked," Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said after the Democratic amendment was defeated. "But we are going to continue to fight."

The Republican amendment passed 51-50 with the vice president's vote. The Democratic alternative failed on a 50-50 vote. On both votes, the sole party defections were Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, who voted with Republicans, and Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, who voted with Democrats.

Mr. Miller has been keeping a low profile since announcing he would back Mr. Bush's budget. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, apparently has stopped trying to convince him to change his mind.

But Mr. Chafee was seen after casting his vote with Democrats being cornered on the Senate floor by Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.

Mr. Daschle predicted Democrats also would lose when the Senate votes today or tomorrow on an expected Republican amendment instructing Mr. Grassley's committee to write the $1.6 trillion tax-cut bill.

"They'll have the votes, unless something changes," Mr. Daschle said.

The amendment giving tax-cutting instructions to the Finance Committee is important because under federal budget laws those instructions also will prevent a filibuster against the bill. That will make it easier for Republicans in the 50-50 Senate to get the measure passed later this year.

Republican leaders expect Mr. Chafee and other centrist Republicans to vote for the tax-cutting instructions under the understanding that if they want to oppose Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan they can vote against the final product later.

"They have been able to define it as a procedural vote," Mr. Daschle said.

Republican leaders also have brought on board reluctant centrists such as Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont Republican with assurances of increased spending for defense, agriculture, education and other priorities.

The White House wants to limit discretionary spending in fiscal 2002 to a 4 percent increase over fiscal 2001, but "they understand," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said. "It's called the legislative process."

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the president remains committed to the size of the budget and tax cuts he has proposed, but is "encouraged by the progress that is being made on [his] agenda."

In addition to the $150 billion added to the budget resolution for Medicare benefits, the Senate debated last night a 10-year, $88 billion entitlement program for farmers authored by Mr. Grassley.

Mr. Jeffords, who Republican leaders say holds one of the deciding votes, is seeking increases in special education spending of about $180 billion over 10 years.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, intends to offer an amendment that will increase spending on defense by $8.5 billion in fiscal 2002.

Mr. Warner said yesterday he agrees that further increases should wait for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's review, but that the Senate should act now "to address current, known personnel and readiness requirements."

"You can tell from the smile on my face that I am getting support," Mr. Warner said as he left a meeting with Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, Mr. Rumsfeld and other Republican leaders.

But fiscal hawks said Republicans are engaging in dangerous legerdemain.

By declaring increases in agriculture and special education spending "mandatory," that money will not be counted against the 4 percent discretionary spending limit set by the president.

"That is a very bad idea. It is very pernicious," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition.

The problem, Mr. Bixby said, is that spending for discretionary programs must be appropriated annually, but mandatory programs, or entitlements, are on autopilot.

Mr. Bush's goal of 4 percent growth is "reasonable," Mr. Bixby said, but if Congress is going to break it, it would be far better to do so "up front so you can see it."

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