- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Top House and Senate Republicans — looking to hand President Bush a victory heading into the final weeks of a heated election — are hoping to move a tax-cut package this week that extends some of Mr. Bush’s most popular middle-class tax breaks.

House Republican leaders want to bring the bill to the floor later this week, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, hopes to follow suit in the Senate.

“This is a bill that enjoys very solid support from both Houses; I expect it to get through,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said yesterday afternoon. “Hopefully we’ll be able to vote on it later this week. It’d be nice if we could.”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and Senate Finance Committee chairman who is leading the effort to craft the bill, complimented Mr. Bush on his efforts to cut taxes. “We are here in great part because of the hard work and determination of the president to ensure that the tax cuts that were provided to working families in 2001 and 2003 continue in the years ahead,” he said.

The bipartisan conference committee of House and Senate members who are crafting the package adjourned last night without finalizing the measure. They are to reconvene this morning.

At its heart, the plan outlined by Mr. Grassley — which aides say would likely amount to roughly $145 billion — would extend for five years the $1,000 per child tax credit, the broadened 10 percent income tax bracket and so-called marriage penalty relief.

It also would provide a one-year freeze on the number of middle-class taxpayers who have to pay the alternative minimum tax. The package also contains one-year extensions of other minor tax provisions.

There was some disagreement late yesterday among Republicans over whether these should be extended for three, four or five years. Aides said five years was the likely scenario.

Republicans said they are pushing the package in order to prevent a tax increase when these tax cuts expire at the end of this year. They also want its passage to highlight their record of tax cuts.

“We want to prevent a snapback tax that starts January first,” said one House Republican aide, who also noted, “Every year the Republicans have been in the majority we’ve passed tax relief in the House.”

Senate Democrats were skeptical of the package and said they would have to review it once finalized. Many Democrats — and a few Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona — say they support the extension of these three tax-relief measures, but insist on spending cuts to offset lost federal revenue.

“I sincerely hope they don’t drag us down into deeper deficit,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said about the package. “It may be a great campaign war cry for the closing weeks, but it’s not very thoughtful.”

The vote will put some Democrats in a tough spot. In the House, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he won’t pressure his Democrats to vote one way or another.

Mr. Hoyer said he personally can survive the election if he opposes the measure, but said some Democrats in tougher races could run into real problems if they vote no. Mr. Hoyer said he doesn’t want his members to “get caught in a 30-second ad,” by Republicans who will blast them if they vote against the tax package.

As for the bill, the marriage penalty relief would keep the standard deduction for married couples at twice the standard deduction that is allowed for single taxpayers and would keep the upper limit of 15 percent income tax bracket at double the tax bracket’s limit for single taxpayers.

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