- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2001

The Senate Finance Committee moved yesterday to complete its work on a $1.35 trillion tax-cut bill, with Republicans hoping to have a final version of the bill for President Bush by month´s end.

"Never have taxes been so high. Never have Americans been so ready for tax relief," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said in opening yesterday´s markup.

"We´re going to get this bill out of here before Memorial Day," Treasury Secretary Paul H. O´Neill told reporters after speaking to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce group of business owners who were at the Capitol to lobby lawmakers in favor of repeal of the estate tax. If Congress meets that deadline, Americans could see an extra $20 billion in their pockets by year´s end, delivered through reduced income-tax withholding.

A handful of Democrats are expected to join a block of Republicans to pass the bill from the committee. But with 171 amendments filed, it is not clear whether a final vote will come.

The measure was written by Mr. Grassley and the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. Both have received criticism from their party for negotiating.

Mr. Grassley defended his decision to work with Mr. Baucus.

"You don´t put together the largest tax cut in two decades without considering all points of view, or you shouldn´t," Mr. Grassley said.

While Republicans may not like the concessions Mr. Grassley has made, they are betting the bill will be rewritten more to their liking in final negotiations with the House.

"I´m not happy with the tax bill as it exists, but I´m happy to be talking about tax cuts," Senate Finance Committee member Phil Gramm said.

"I want to get the bill out of committee, pass it in the Senate and go to conference," the Texas Republican said. "I just have a sense that things will be better there."

Democrats also have taken Mr. Baucus to task.

"You are sadly misguided," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, told Mr. Baucus, saying the tax bill "eviscerates the revenues of the federal government."

Democrats said the tax plan uses a host of gimmicks to mask its true cost.

For example, tax cuts for married couples would not take effect until 2006, the same year that the bill would repeal a deduction for education expenses.

Similarly, across-the-board rate cuts will not take full effect until 2007, the year a provision that would prevent the alternative minimum tax from eroding the benefit of those cuts is scheduled to lapse.

"If we can´t afford it when the baby boomers are 55, how in heaven´s name can we afford this bill when the baby boomers reach retirement at 65," asked Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. Mr. Grassley said the changes were made to get Democratic support.

The first real challenge to the bill came with an amendment by Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat. He would have made the tax breaks for married couples effective immediately at the cost of slowing the phase-in of the rate cuts.

The amendment failed on a 14-6 vote with Mr. Baucus, and Democratic Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey joining the committee´s 10 Republicans in voting no.

Mr. Baucus said that he is concerned Republicans in final tax-cut talks with the House may go too far for him and other Democrats.

"That´s a real concern frankly," Mr. Baucus told reporters.

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