- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004


The Senate voted yesterday to make it tougher for Republicans to push tax cuts through Congress as Democrats won an election-year struggle that could hinder some of President Bush’s economic priorities.

By 51-48, the Republican-majority Senate agreed to require 60 votes for tax cuts considered over the next five years that are not paid for with other savings.

That requirement could doom all but the most popular tax-reduction plans in the 100-member Senate, which Republicans control with 51 seats. It also would complicate Republican efforts to deliver the core of Mr. Bush’s plan for reviving the economy, making $1.1 trillion worth of tax cuts permanent that will otherwise expire by 2011.

The provision, added to a $2.36 trillion budget bill that the Senate was debating, could disappear by the time House-Senate bargainers produce a compromise spending plan, perhaps next month. The Republican-run House is sure to strongly oppose the language.

Even so, passage of the plan was a setback for the White House and Republican leaders, who lobbied heavily against it but saw four moderate Republicans vote “yes” anyway. Its approval underscored the political potency of record deficits, which are expected to approach $500 billion this year.

Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, chief sponsor of the approved proposal, said it “makes it harder for this body to make deficits worse. … That’s as it should be.”

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, said the plan would throw obstacles at the GOP’s agenda of keeping tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 from reverting to earlier, higher rates.

“If you want to keep tax levels where they are today, adoption of this amendment is going to make it a lot harder,” he said before the vote.

Minutes earlier, the Senate, by a mostly party-line 52-47 vote, rejected an effort by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, that would have forced Republicans to garner 60 votes for this year’s tax reductions only.

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