- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Congressional Republicans and the White House have decided to test the resolve of a coalition of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans in the Senate by bringing to a vote a $1.97 trillion budget for fiscal 2002 with an 11-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut.
"We have got the votes," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican.
The House proceeded last night with several procedural votes and will vote on the budget agreement today. The Senate will then take up the measure and could vote on final passage by tomorrow morning.
In negotiations yesterday, conservative Senate Democrats asked for and received assurances that the budget would make clear that $100 billion of the tax cut would come in the form of a two-year economic stimulus package. But Republicans rebuffed last-minute demands to increase spending on education.
"I have never seen anything like this," a senior White House aide said last night, referring to the chaotic negotiations.
The House and Senate have been trying to resolve the differences in their proposed budgets for more than a month.
Deals on the tax cuts and on spending for fiscal 2002 were reached last week, but two missing pages in the deal prevented the budget from coming to a vote. The delay also gave Democrats the weekend to rally their arguments against the budget.
Republicans spent Monday and yesterday struggling to shore up their plan and win back the support of conservative Democrats.
In the end, Republicans decided to proceed with the budget and the relatively minor change regarding the tax cut, hoping to exploit a fissure among the Democrats.
While most of the conservative Democratic group were willing to rally around its position on tax cuts, several showed skittishness about making a stand for extra spending on education.
"There is a feeling that we got here together and if possible wed like to stay together. Underline possible," said Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat.
Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and also a member of that coalition, said he was surprised by some of the members who were leaning toward voting for the budget.
The budget would provide about $661 billion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2002, about a 4 percent increase over fiscal 2001.
Democrats argued that while Republicans had professed to increase education spending, the budget plan actually provides no extra money for education after adjusting for inflation. They sought between $3 billion and $6 billion more for fiscal 2002.
Republicans and the White House countered that President Bushs proposed budget would require just $655 billion for discretionary programs in fiscal 2002, leaving an extra $6 billion under the House-Senate budget agreement for whatever programs, including education, Congress decides is appropriate.
"Thats been persuasive," a White House aide said.
Still, both sides predict, Republicans will lose many of the 15 Democratic votes that helped pass the original Senate version of the budget.
"The budget we passed sought to build consensus. The budget before us now erodes it," Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, said at a news conference announcing he would vote against the budget this time.
Republican Sens. James M. Jeffords of Vermont and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island have also said they remain undecided.
"Its going to be a close vote," said Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat.


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