- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Conservatives won a $14 billion victory against pork-barrel spending in the Senate this week but appear less likely to succeed today in a vote to eliminate what critics call the “death tax.”

Aides on both sides of the issue agreed that Democrats appear likely to succeed today in a filibuster of the tax repeal. But conservatives are optimistic about reaching a compromise that would raise the floor on the value of estates that are taxed and lower the rate on small businesses and property that are passed to the next generation.

“Since its birth as a ‘temporary measure’ to help finance World War I, the death tax has destroyed family businesses, discouraged thrift and hurt the economy,” Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, wrote in a column yesterday.

Mr. Frist wants to force a vote on eliminating the tax, but Senate aides say both sides continue negotiations for at least a reduction.

Meanwhile, the House and Senate reached a compromise that adheres to President Bush’s request for $94.5 billion in emergency spending to pay for the war in Iraq and the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. The compromise results in $14 billion in cuts.

“It’s a sign that Congress is listening to the voice of the American people,” said John Hart, spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who led the fight to strip the pork spending. “The public should be encouraged that when they speak up, their voices are heard.”

Last month, the Senate packed $14 billion in pork spending into the “emergency” spending bill.

Among the items most odious to conservatives was $700 million for the so-called “railroad to nowhere” in Mississippi and $500 million for corporate giant Northrop Grumman’s shipbuilding operations in Pascagoula. Both were inserted by the Republican senators from Mississippi, one of whom chairs the Appropriations Committee.

Although the railroad provision has been removed entirely, Republican aides said they are looking for a way to include the federal money for Northrop Grumman.

“Since we’re sticking with the president’s request, that money would come from either war funding or hurricane relief,” one staffer said.

The bill also includes $1.9 billion to prepare for an avian flu pandemic and $800 million to pay for added security along the Mexico border.

Stripped from the bill was a $289 million proposal by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, to compensate anyone who is adversely affected by the influenza vaccine.

“If a flu pandemic begins, the nation will have to call on its first responders — health workers, police officers, firefighters and others — to take an experimental vaccine so that they can perform their vital work of halting the spread of the disease,” Mr. Kennedy said yesterday. “Sadly, House Republicans have inexplicably stripped out the funding.”

The compromise is expected to come up for a vote in the House later this week and the Senate early next week.

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