Thursday, November 30, 2006

Democrats have long attacked President Bush for the historic tax cuts he ushered through Congress during his first term and have promised to reverse at least some of them.

But among their top priorities when they take over Congress next month is passing a permanent tax cut of their own.

Included in their “Six for ‘06” platform that they say helped them win majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats promised to: “Make college tuition deductible from taxes, permanently.”

Their tax cut promise is neither an election-year gimmick, Democrats say, nor a reversal in their long-standing opposition to Mr. Bush’s tax cuts.

“Democrats have made it clear that the middle class will be our priority and making college more affordable is a key concern of working families,” said incoming House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

They have been less clear, however, about their plans for other tax cuts that expire in 2010 and or how to raise the revenue required to institute the “pay-go” rules they have promised. Those rules prohibit adding any new spending to the budget or cutting taxes unless there is money in the budget.

Though Republicans dramatically sliced taxes without money in the budget, they now can point to historic levels of tax receipts because of the healthy economy that was, they say, spurred by the tax cut.

The only hints from Democrats about their tax plans have come from Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the New York Democrat who will be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He has told reporters that tax increases are on the table, but Democratic leaders quickly reined him in and continue to adamantly insist that they have no such plans for the time being.

The tuition tax deduction, along with a handful of other popular tax cuts, have been on the table in Congress ever since they expired at the end of the 2005 tax year. Tax filers next spring will not be able to deduct tuition costs unless something is done retroactively before then.

The tax cut is such a popular one that Republicans have tried for months to pair it with the elimination of the estate tax — an idea most Democrats in Congress vehemently oppose. Though the elimination of the death tax had majority support in the Senate with Democratic backers, it could not pass the 60-vote threshold that Democrats required. So, Republicans added an increase in the minimum wage to further sweeten the deal.

Democrats still refused. And Republicans refused to strip out the popular tax deductions and pass them on their own.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and outgoing chairman of the Finance Committee, has been critical of both sides for not already approving the tax relief.

“It’s all because of political calculations,” he said. “That’s a shame.”

Mr. Grassley and others have urged Republican leaders to go ahead and approve the popular tax cuts and make those cuts permanent before the end of the year.

“The election is over; the political outcome is certain,” Mr. Grassley said. “We need to give taxpayers the same certainty about tax provisions that affect their bottom line. I hope the House and Senate use the lame-duck session to redeem themselves from lameness.”

Regardless of whether Republicans can accomplish this in the coming weeks, Democrats have every intention of doing so when they take over.

“Democrats have made it a priority to cut taxes for the middle class,” said Will Edgar, a spokesman for incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “The American people made clear they want change, and we’re ready to work with the Republicans to move America forward.”

Mr. Hoyer signaled a similar eagerness to work across the aisle on the matter.

“Democrats have been strong supporters of extending the college-tuition deduction and would like to join with our Republican colleagues to pass an extension before Congress adjourns for the holidays,” he said. “Middle-class families deserve to know that this deduction will be there to help them pay for their children’s education next year.”

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