- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

The Senate voted 53-47 yesterday to approve a $1.97 trillion budget that paves the way for enactment this summer of the largest tax cut in two decades.
"The presidents budget reflects our countrys most important priorities, and todays vote — the final step in its approval — is a victory for American families," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.
The House approved the measure Wednesday with a 221-207 vote.
The budget is not binding and the spending levels it proposes will almost certainly change over the coming months, but the procedural protections it provides means it will take just 50 votes in the Senate to pass an 11-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut, rather than the 60-vote hurdle it would normally face.
"The president is very pleased," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "Now that both the House and the Senate have acted, its clear that the economic recovery package that the president has talked about is on the way, tax relief is on the way, educational improvements are on the way, and maintaining the nations vital priorities, especially for our senior citizens, is on the way," he said.
"This is historic," said Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican. He said taxpayers had been shortchanged for the past eight years because tax-cut bills had "died on the presidents desk. We now have a president that will sign these bills."
However, leading Democrats said the budget was fiscally reckless and did not adequately fund vital areas such as education and the environment. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said "this budget is the worst example of fiscal irresponsibility that Ive seen to date."
Mr. Daschle said the Senate in the past week has taken repeated votes to increase federal expenditures on education during debate on a separate bill, none of which would be funded in the budget approved yesterday.
"All of that is absolutely meaningless if we pass this budget," he said.
Republicans, however, disputed Mr. Daschles claim. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico said: "Were adding a lot of dollars on the floor of the Senate with reference to education. But if you added them up, theres no way you could pay for all of them in any budget."
Mr. Domenici said the budget provides room for various contingencies, but the bottom line is that "some will get paid, some will not."
Sen. James M. Jeffords, one of the few Republicans who voted against the budget, said Congress must pass a tax cut, pay down the national debt and protect Social Security. But, the Vermont Republican said, "we must provide a free and adequate education to every child in America."
Other Republicans countered that the budget already provides an 11 percent increase in spending for education for fiscal 2002.
The budgets passage was made possible in the Senate by five Democrats who broke party ranks to vote for the bill.
The defections by two liberal Republicans, Mr. Jeffords and Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, could potentially have defeated the measure in the evenly split Senate.
"My recommendation is that we pass this imperfect document," said Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, leader of a group of centrist Democrats who negotiated with the White House on the tax-cut compromise of $1.35 trillion.
Mr. Breaux was joined by Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Max Cleland of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. They had maintained a coalition with other conservative Democrats during negotiations with the Bush administration over the size of the tax cut. That coalition broke down, however, when some insisted that the budget needed to have increased education spending.
Sen. Zell Miller, the other Georgia Democrat, also voted for the budget. Mr. Miller was the first Senate Democrat to say he would support the presidents original $1.6 trillion tax-cut proposal.
Explaining his "yes" vote, Mr. Nelson said, "Im not going to stand and turn my back on the good, waiting for the perfect. Its not as though spending is short around here."
Mr. Baucus said voting for the budget is a sign of good faith in the administration and will allow him to continue participating in efforts to write a tax-cut bill. He and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, have been working on a bill that could be announced as early as today.
Hearings to write the bill are expected to occur sometime next week. "We hope that well have a mark ready to review by (Friday)," said Mr. Lott, who is also a member of the Finance Committee. "That will give us the weekend to go over it. We will be prepared to have the markup Monday or Tuesday, and well have it ready for floor action next week."
The Finance Committees version of the tax cut is likely to include reductions in several areas of Mr. Bushs $1.6 trillion tax-cut plan. The presidents plan includes an across-the-board income-tax rate cut, an increase in the child credit, an expansion of education savings accounts, a repeal of the estate and gift taxes, and tax breaks targeted at married couples.
Mr. Grassley and Mr. Baucus are also considering adding legislation providing tax incentives for research and development and retirement savings.
Mr. Baucus predicted that the tax bill would see broader bipartisan support than the budget did on final passage.
The Senate passed its original version of the budget several weeks ago with a 65-35 vote. That bill, backed by 15 Democrats, would have increased discretionary spending to $688 billion in fiscal 2002, and limited the tax cut to $1.28 trillion over 11 years.
The budget adopted yesterday limits spending to $661 billion as proposed by the president and approved by the House.
That would be about a 4 percent increase of discretionary appropriations over fiscal 2001, but the budget also assumes a $6.5 billion increase in fiscal 2001 spending for defense and a $5.5 billion increase in fiscal 2001 entitlement payments to farmers.
Democrats who supported the original proposal said they did not vote for the budget yesterday because the tax cut is too large. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, said that he and other centrist Democrats were "reaching out to Republicans to build consensus" by voting for the budget resolution last month.
"Today, our offer to work towards responsible tax cuts was rejected," Mr. Carper said.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum shrugged off the loss of the 10 Democrats on the budgets final vote, saying there was a small band of conservative Democrats who are willing to cooperate with the administration and Republicans.
"We have a smaller group of Democrats who are more fiscally responsible in a balanced way," the Pennsylvania Republican said.
* Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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