- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Senate Democrats succeeded yesterday in their second attempt to cut the president's $726 billion economic-growth package in half.
The Senate voted 51-48 to approve an amendment sponsored by Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, that replaced the president's 10-year tax cut with a $350 billion tax-cut plan. The measure would put the extra revenue into a "reserve fund" to pay for any Social Security reforms passed this year.
Mr. Breaux attempted to do the same thing Friday with a measure that earmarked the money taken from the tax cut for general deficit reduction. That amendment failed to get the support of enough Democrats to pass, but yesterday's amendment benefited from being identical to one offered in the Senate Budget Committee by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat.
With Mr. Hollings on board, the Breaux amendment got the votes of 47 Senate Democrats and independent James M. Jeffords of Vermont, as well as Republicans Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and George V. Voinovich of Ohio.
All 48 senators who voted against the amendment were Republicans. Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, missed the vote because of a family illness.
"I was very pleased that the Senate indicated that a lower tax-cut reduction was the proper thing to do," Mr. Breaux said. "I think the war, obviously, has an impact on it. How much is it going to cost? I think it is still very uncertain."
Thirteen senators switched their votes from Friday to support yesterday's Breaux amendment. Those switching their votes included Mr. Jeffords and Democrats Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Dianne Feinstein of California, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Mr. Hollings, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
The lone Republican to switch was Mr. Chafee, who maintains that any tax cut at this time is unwise, but said he voted for the $350 billion package because "anything's better" than the president's plan. Mr. Breaux said the support of Mr. Hollings is what earned the support of the no-tax-cut Democrats.
Yesterday's vote came as a bit of a surprise to Republican leaders, who thought they had beaten back all attempts to reduce the president's growth package last week. But Republicans failed to get the budget resolution passed Friday as they had originally planned, which opened the door to further attacks on the tax cut.
"Well, this was a great victory this afternoon," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who said the amendment still left a bigger tax cut than he wanted, but was a good step. "We made a very irresponsible budget a little more responsible by cutting the tax cut."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said he is still hopeful that the president's full tax cut will emerge from Congress and criticized the Senate for choosing to increase spending.
"The manner in which the Senate, on this particular vote, did this, the money will be available for more spending," Mr. Fleischer said. "While those who back that amendment say that it will provide money in a reserve fund for Social Security, the history of such reserve funds is that they serve as a piggy bank for more spending."
The White House, however, said talk of a presidential veto is premature.
"The Senate has a number of additional votes to come," said Bush spokeswoman Claire Buchan. "In addition, the Senate bill will have to be reconciled with the House bill."
The $350 billion tax-cut figure has to survive a conference on the budget with the House, which approved $726 billion in tax cuts. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, vowed to fight for the House version.
"We held basically to the president's budget at least to the president's principles, and we're going to defend the president's principles when we get to conference," Mr. DeLay said.
Mrs. Snowe declared passage of the Breaux amendment a victory for those who supported a "right-sized" growth package.
"For this effort, the second time's a charm," Mrs. Snowe said. "And I am pleased we were able to secure additional support by adjusting this amendment to support Social Security."
Senate Republican leaders expressed their disappointment in the vote, but said they could still salvage much of what Mr. Bush wants.
"It's not that bad," said Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. "We at least have some tax cuts in the bill, and we go to conference and I think we'll end up higher than $350 [billion], lower than $725 [billion], and I think that will be a good result."
The Senate is expected to have a final vote on the budget resolution today. Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has a series of amendments on tap that would restore some of the defeated tax cuts, but one senior Democratic aide said the amendments don't stand much of a chance.
"What happened today was the sense of the Senate on tax cuts," the aide said. "I think the matter is pretty much settled."
Stephen Dinan and Joseph Curl contributed to this report.

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