- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

The election-year battle over tax cuts will begin this week as Senate Democrats try to stop a Republican bid to use the 2005 Senate budget proposal to help extend some of President Bush’s tax cuts.

The Republican budget language, which Democrats oppose, sets up a faster process, with fewer procedural delays, for any debate over extending certain tax cuts set to expire later this year. ‘

“I think the … language ought to be stripped,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said yesterday.

Mr. Daschle said he would consult with party colleagues before making a final decision, but later in the day Democrat senators said their party would try this week to remove the language from the budget proposal currently being debated in the Senate.

At least one Republican, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, will support that effort.

“If we’re going to address the deficit, we just can’t keep having tax cuts,” he said.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a liberal Maine Republican often skeptical of tax cuts, said she was still deciding what to do.

The Senate yesterday defeated on a 51-46 vote a Democratic proposal that would have made new tax cuts harder to pass.

The proposal would have set a 60-vote requirement to pass new tax cuts or mandatory spending increases that aren’t paid for, unless the budget is balanced without counting Social Security surpluses.

The Republicans’ proposal for 2005 budgets about $144 billion to extend some of President Bush’s tax cuts that are set to expire in the next few years.

The budget proposal would specifically protect $80 billion of that from Senate delays and filibusters by stipulating that proposals to extend these particular tax cuts would have limited time on the floor, couldn’t be saddled with unrelated amendments, and would only need a simple majority to pass, as opposed to the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster threat that any senator can make.

The protective language applies to three tax cuts set to expire at the end of 2004 — the increased child tax credit, the expanded 10 percent bracket for low-income people, and tax breaks for married couples to correct the “marriage penalty” — as well as an extra year of estate-tax repeal.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said the Democrat-led effort to strip the language may succeed.

“It seems to me that’s a good possibility. That’s not what we’d like to have happen,” he said.

A Senate Republican leadership aide said Mr. Bush “wants very strongly to retain” the language.

Mr. Grassley said the Senate would still likely extend the three tax cuts without the protection language, as they are popular and have bipartisan support.

He said Republican leaders would just have to work to get 60 votes and may have to find ways to “offset” or pay for the tax cuts in order for enough members to support their extension.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, agreed the tax cuts likely could be extended without the protective language, but said that was far from ideal.

“It just means … the other side can slow you down, and therefore, you might have to make a lot of compromises,” he said.

Over the last three years, the House has pushed for deeper tax cuts only to be blocked by senators. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay signaled yesterday that the House will be happy this year with whatever the Senate can pass in its budget.

“We’ll take whatever we can get that will pass the Senate,” Mr. DeLay told reporters in a briefing yesterday, then paused. “I shouldn’t put it that way; as long as what passes the Senate doesn’t raise taxes, and protects the child tax credit, the marriage penalty and the 10 percent bracket on low-income people.”

Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, prepared an amendment that would add $7 billion in defense spending to the budget proposal, bringing it up to Mr. Bush’s defense request of $421 billion.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, said that this will “probably” pass.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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