- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Senate Democratic leaders have proposed extending some of President Bush’s tax cuts for the middle class that are set to expire in 2010, a move that Republicans say is an attempt to appease centrist Democrats.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, yesterday introduced an amendment to the Senate budget resolution that would provide almost $200 billion to preserve middle-class tax cuts and enhance health care coverage for poor children.

The amendment, backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, is aimed at extending tax cuts for married couples, people with children and those inheriting large estates, among others.

The tax-cut extensions would have the effect of erasing a $132 billion surplus promised under the Democrats’ original budget. The amendment passed by a vote of 97 to 1. Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin was the lone dissenter.

Republicans say the tax cuts and spending make the Democrats’ goal of balancing the budget in five years unrealistic.

“There has been a fair amount of disingenuousness in the [Democrats’] presentation of this budget on their side,” said New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. “When you blow all the smoke away, it gets back to a very simple budget: big spending, big taxes.”

Republican leaders say the Democrats are being forced to tweak the initial budget resolution over fears that centrist Democrats unhappy with the idea of allowing a variety of popular tax cuts to expire at the end of the decade might reject the resolution.

“I’m presuming that what you’re seeing happening on the [Senate] floor is an attempt to get the votes for final passage, and that’s why Baucus went forward,” Mr. Gregg said.

But Mr. Baucus says the money will be well-spent, and denies it would lead to a budget deficit.

“Our amendment would put children first — it would take $15 billion and devote it to improving children’s health care coverage,” Mr. Baucus said. “Then our amendment takes the rest of the surplus and returns it to the hardworking American families who created it.”

Members of both parties expect to again address the tax cuts after the 2008 presidential election.

The budget resolution, drafted by Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, promises to turn a projected $249 billion budget deficit next year into a $132 billion surplus in 2012.

The legislation increases spending in three key areas: children’s health care, education and transportation programs. It also would reverse President Bush’s proposed cuts or increase spending for law enforcement, heating assistance, community development, transportation and military veterans, among other areas.

The legislation also promises to close tax loopholes, shut down tax shelters and to cap for two years the number of Americans who pay the alternative minimum tax.

The budget debate is expected to continue on the Senate floor through Friday.

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