- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

The marathon Senate budget process, poised this year to set a record for amendments, will be finished by 4 p.m. tomorrow, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee promised.

The deadline for offering amendments to the 2004 budget was 4 p.m. yesterday, with Democrats putting forth the maximum of 40 amendments allowed them this week by Republican Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles of Oklahoma. Republicans offered 17 amendments.

Still undetermined is whether the Senate will enact a blueprint that includes all the economic-growth items President Bush wants, or just most of them. On Friday, the Senate passed 52-47 an amendment by Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, that took $100 billion out of the $726 billion tax cut passed by the Senate Budget Committee to offset the cost of the war in Iraq.

The White House was scheduled to submit a supplemental budget request to Congress last night estimated to be about $75 billion to fund operations in Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, opposed the Feingold amendment, but voted for it anyway so he could leave open the possibility of reconsidering the matter. Frist spokesman Nick Smith said yesterday that it was "unclear" whether Mr. Frist would be able to convince one senator to switch votes in the coming days and reinstate the full tax cut.

Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, supports the president's plan, but did not vote Friday because he was tending to an ill relative. With his vote, and that of Mr. Frist, one more vote would produce a 50-50 split, short of the clear majority needed to keep Mr. Feingold's amendment in the bill.

The Senate Republican leadership has beaten back several other attempts to eliminate or reduce the size of the growth package. Even if the plan survives the budget process, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, has vowed to fight to slash the tax cut in half in the Senate Finance Committee.

Last week, Democrats offered more than 100 amendments many of them "redundant," according to Mr. Nickles while complaining that the process is taking too long and distracting from important business, such as monitoring the war in Iraq.

"They basically stopped cooperating at 4 p.m. [Friday]," said Nickles spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg. At that point, she said, Democrats began to complain that working late into the night would put too much stress on some of the senators.

"They had to talk about it for four hours," Miss Osterberg said.

The Senate has registered 22 roll-call votes on amendments to the budget, and if many of the remaining amendments get the same treatment, the record of 59 budget votes, set in 1995, will be in jeopardy.

"We are not interested in breaking the record," she said.

All Republican amendments to the 2004 budget that raise spending are offset by cuts elsewhere, with the exception of an increase in transportation spending of roughly $10 billion in each of the next six years. Most Democratic amendments pay for their additional spending by dipping into the cost of Mr. Bush's growth package.

Starting tomorrow, Republicans will attempt to pass amendments that give further tax instructions to the Senate Finance Committee and increase spending in a few federal programs.

Democrats will make further attempts to reduce the size of the tax cut and pour more funding into federal programs.

"This is one of the few opportunities the Democrats have to highlight our priorities," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. "The Republicans quickly muscled these things through the committee and onto the Senate floor."

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