- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott yesterday joined the call to speed up Congress' consideration of tax-cut legislation.

"As we look at the economy and look what we might need to do, we should consider possibly moving something sooner," the Mississippi Republican told reporters yesterday.

The House has already passed the income-tax rate cuts included in President Bush's tax-cut plan and is expected to pass at least two more elements of that plan by the first week of May. Those elements include a repeal of the estate and gift tax, an increase in the child tax credit, a tax break targeted specifically to married couples, and tax incentives for charitable giving.

But with its more liberal rules of debate, the Senate was expected to pass a single, omnibus tax-cut bill and wait until summer to try to do so.

Now, Mr. Lott said, there is growing concern about both the pace of action and making sure the tax cuts themselves are accelerated.

The House-passed legislation includes Mr. Bush's entire across-the-board income tax-rate cut and his proposed creation of a new low bracket that the House decided to make retroactive to the beginning of 2001.

Mr. Lott said the Senate should consider speeding up the rate cuts and the phased-in repeal of the estate and gift tax "rather than having so much of it kick in five, six, eight years down the road."

The Senate could also move up its consideration of the tax-cut bill by a month, and, with cooperation from Democrats, could even act sooner on a smaller tax-cut package, he said.

Still, Mr. Lott said, even if Congress does speed up its pace, relief is not likely to be approved before summer.

"Perhaps we could move it up a month, but the realistic idea, I think, is that it probably would be in June before the Fourth of July," Mr. Lott said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said in a letter yesterday to Mr. Bush that Congress could have an abbreviated tax-cut bill on the president's desk as early as May 1.

The letter repeats a suggestion made by Mr. Daschle on Sunday that Congress act immediately to cut the 15 percent tax bracket to 10 percent. That plan an accelerated version of one proposed by Mr. Bush would cost about $450 billion over the next decade, saving taxpayers up to $600 each year.

Mr. Daschle said the plan would boost the economy and have an added benefit of proving "that Republicans and Democrats can work together to enact a broader package of tax cuts."

Republicans said they appreciate Democrats' willingness to discuss cutting taxes, but said the offer fell short.

"We are pleased and encouraged," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said yesterday. But, she added, "there are a number of other issues that must be addressed."

Mr. Lott agreed, adding that the proposed lower bracket would probably not pass the Senate without the cuts to the upper brackets also proposed by Mr. Bush.

A House Republican leadership aide called Mr. Daschle's offer a political dodge. The tax cut proposed does relatively little for those who pay the most in taxes, but would allow Democrats to say they, too, support tax relief, the aide said.

Still, the fact that Democrats feel it necessary to make a $450 billion offer when just a year ago they were arguing against much smaller tax cuts shows that "they are feeling the heat," the aide said.

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