- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

The Senate yesterday approved a $2.9 billion budget for fiscal 2008 that calls for extending some middle-class tax cuts but increases taxes on tobacco.

Democratic leaders said the resolution provides needed spending increases for children’s health care, education and military veterans while also leading to a balanced budget by 2012.

“This budget accomplishes so many things,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “The priorities of the middle class and working families were at the top of the list when Democrats drafted this budget.”

Republicans called it a “classic Democrat tax-and-spend” budget.

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said the budget as proposed would “cripple our economy, destroy job growth, and make it harder for American families to make ends meet.”

“It only took three months for Democrats to break their promise of fiscal responsibility and revert to their tax-and-spend ways,” he said.

The 52-to-47 vote generally was along party lines, with Maine’s two liberal-leaning Republican senators — Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe — voting with the Democratic majority.

Independents Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut, also voted yes.

“This is an important turning point for the country,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “Three of the last five years we have not had a budget.”

Congress failed to pass a budget last year, and Democrats didn’t even bring one to the floor when controlling the Senate in 2002.

The budget blueprint for fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1, establishes overall spending and revenue goals. But it will be up to individual committees to determine where the money goes.

The budget resolution next goes to the House, which is expected to begin to debate the issue next week.

But Republicans said the proposal, crafted by Mr. Conrad, is egregiously irresponsible and would lead to a $736 billion tax increase that would be the largest in U.S. history.

“The budget passed by the Senate today is not a good budget for the country,” said Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. “So what we are left with is a classic tax-and-spend budget that grows the government and yet does nothing to help our children pay for it.”

Senate Republican leaders say the resolution contains billions in new spending and will drive the debt up by at least $2.4 trillion.

One of the biggest flash points in the budget was an amendment by Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, to provide almost $200 billion to preserve middle-class tax cuts. The tax-cut extensions, which were set to expire in 2010, would have the effect of erasing a $132 billion surplus promised under the Democrats’ original budget.

“This budget squanders the opportunity to address the fiscal tsunami we will face as the baby boom generation retires,” Mr. Gregg said.

The Senate agreed to an amendment by Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, for increasing the 39 cent-a-pack tobacco tax to $1 to finance and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health care coverage for poor children.

“It is inexcusable in the United States of America that millions of children go without health care coverage,” Mr. Smith said.

The 61-cent increase will generate an estimated $35 billion for the health care program, he said.

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