- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Senate foes of oil drilling in an Alaskan preserve lost a skirmish yesterday while tax-cut supporters scored a victory in a sampling of the budget battles to come this year.

The Senate Budget Committee voted 12-10 to bar filibusters against legislation later this year that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to mineral exploration. Filibusters require 60 votes — a number that drilling supporters probably would find hard to garner.

By 12-10, the panel then rejected an effort by Democrats to require that any new tax cuts be paid for with spending reductions or increased revenue. The amendment, aimed directly at an annual Republican priority, recalled a dispute that derailed Congress’ effort to approve a budget last year and has returned because of persistently huge deficits.

The fights raged as the committee approved — in another 12-10 party-line vote — a Republican-written $2.56 trillion budget for next year. The plan claims to gradually reduce deficits in the next five years with smaller tax cuts and smaller spending reductions than President Bush wants.

“We should pay” for tax cuts, said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, who sponsored the tax cut amendment, “and not just heap the costs on the backs of our children and grandchildren.”

Republicans said the best way to keep the budget under control was to restrain federal spending.

“And we need to stimulate our economy by holding down the tax burden,” said Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican.

Mr. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress want to extend tax cuts this year on capital gains and corporate dividends and retain other reductions that would otherwise expire.

The president proposed $100 billion in five-year tax reductions. A budget approved by the House Budget Committee on Wednesday would exceed that figure slightly, while the more moderate Senate held its tax-cut total to $70 billion.

The fights over drilling and tax cuts are likely to be fought again when the full Senate considers the budget next week. The House plans to vote on its budget next week, too, and Republicans in both chambers are bracing for other battles.

A bipartisan group of 59 House members has written to House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, protesting his budget’s $5.3 billion in planned five-year agriculture savings. Firefighters will be lobbying in Washington next week against a Bush proposal to reduce grants to fire departments.

In addition, bitter fights are certain to occur over congressional plans to cut planned spending for Medicaid, the health care system for the poor, and for student loans, veterans programs and others.

Both congressional budgets would increase spending for defense and anti-terrorism efforts at home. They would give hundreds of domestic programs — except automatically paid benefits such as Medicare — slightly less than they are getting this year.

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