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KWAME HOLMAN: The president’s signature barely had dried on the new tax cut legislation two weeks ago when critics not an apparent glitch. Millions of low-income families would not benefit from an increase in the child care tax credit, a key element of the tax cut plan which the president often promoted.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The Jobs and Growth Act increases the per child tax credit from $600 to $1,000. So today, I’m directing the Department of the Treasury to issue checks up to $400 per child to 25 million eligible families, and those checks will begin arriving in July. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: But just before Congress sent the tax bill to the president, new child tax benefits for some 6.5 million low-income families were removed by House and Senate Republican negotiators. It was done to keep the size of the overall tax cut package within an agreed-to limit of $350 billion. House Democrats jumped on the issue as soon as Congress returned from its Memorial Day recess.
SPOKESMAN: The gentleman is recognized for one minute.
KWAME HOLMAN: California’s Bob Filner:
REP. BOB FILNER, (D) California) Mr. Speaker, there they go again. When the republicans are faced with a choice of helping millionaires with tax credits or giving low-income people some help they need with the same tax credits, they choose the millionaires every time.
KWAME HOLMAN: Connecticut’s Rosa DeLauro:
REP. ROSA DeLAURO, (D) Connecticut: These millionaires must somehow have greater moral value than the working poor, people who are scheduled to get nothing in this bill.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, over in the Senate, Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln, an original co- sponsor of the extended child tax credit benefits, asked for another vote in an attempt to restore them.
SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN, (D) Arkansas: Advancing the refundable portion of the child credit to cover these families will cost only $3.5 billion, just 1 percent of the entire cost of that tax bill.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senator Lincoln did not succeed immediately.
SPOKESMAN: Reserving the right to object.
KWAME HOLMAN: But with almost all of the Democrats and six Republicans signed up as co- sponsors of her legislation, Lincoln clearly had momentum, and serious negotiations with republican leaders in the Senate got under way.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, Minority Leader: There seems to be some interest in the Senate to fix it. The roadblock is in the House of Representatives. The roadblock is with the majority leader, Tom DeLay.
KWAME HOLMAN: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was well aware of Tom DeLay’s position on resurrecting the tax issue. On Tuesday, he was quoted as saying: “There are a lot of things that are more important than that.”
REP. NANCY PELOSI: And we are determined to make this issue too hot for the Republicans to handle. They are just going to have to come through.
KWAME HOLMAN: On Tuesday, House Democrats began disrupting routine business, blocking non- controversial legislation known as suspension bills that require a two-thirds majority vote to pass. New York’s Charles Rangel:
REP. CHARLES RANGEL, (D) New York: Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy heart that I approach the floor to alert the House that a substantial number of members are prepared to see that we do not pass suspension bills until such time as the grievances of this great body are addressed.
KWAME HOLMAN: First, California’s George Miller derailed debate on water rights for the Zuni Indian tribes of Arizona and New Mexico.
REP. GEORGE MILLER, (D) California: We spent a considerable amount of time on a tax bill. We thought we were balancing…
SPOKESMAN: Mr. Speaker. My speaker.
REP. GEORGE MILLER: I’m entitled, Mr. Speaker.
REP. RICK RENZI, (R) Arizona: Mr. Speaker, on an issue of regular order, I’d ask that the issue at hand, which is the water rights for the Zunis, be addressed, and not be used for a sideshow.
KWAME HOLMAN: Miller then sidetracked the debate on a bill concerning the Grand Teton National Park, sponsored by Wyoming’s Barbara Cubin.
REP. BARBARA CUBIN, (R) Wyoming: Do you intend to follow your support for the bill with an affirmative vote on the bill?
REP. GEORGE MILLER: Do you support improving the child tax credit so that millions of American families can get a tax credit, many in your state, that have been cut out of the tax bill?
REP. BARBARA CUBIN: Do you intend to answer my question, Mr. Miller?
REP. GEORGE MILLER: I answered your question. I strongly support the bill.
REP. BARBARA CUBIN: And you will vote in favor of the bill?
REP. GEORGE MILLER: No, I will not.
REP. BARBARA CUBIN: Thank you.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats provided enough no votes to defeat both measures.
SPOKESMAN: The rules are not suspended, and the bill is not passed.
KWAME HOLMAN: Though the measures were approved the next day, comity in the House continued to deteriorate. On Thursday, Georgia Republican Jack Kingston and Tennessee Democrat Harold Ford exchanged words.
REP. JACK KINGSTON, (R) Georgia: We are not going to say we have the franchise on helping the working poor just because we voted to take three million off the payrolls, and you all voted against it.
REP. HAROLD FORD, (D) Tennessee: How is that consistent with the taking three million… or I should say up to 12 million children or removing them from the target of a tax cut which my colleagues did? They voted for it.
REP. JACK KINGSTON: Let me say this to my friend from Tennessee: There are a lot of differences between the Democrat and the Republican parties. They seem to like unemployment checks and government handouts. We like paychecks, jobs, and opportunities. They like welfare and low expectations. We like welfare reform, jobs.
SPOKESMAN: Jack, you’ve got to yield there. Mr. Kingston, I’m not going to let the gentleman get away with that. I’m asking the gentleman to yield. You’re not going to get away with the welfare debate. You’re not going to get away with the welfare debate, not today, not today!
KWAME HOLMAN: And then Tom DeLay himself came to the House floor.
REP. TOM DeLAY: My, my, my, what a heated debate we are having today.
KWAME HOLMAN: DeLay explained that republican leaders simply had decided not to accelerate child tax credit benefits for low income families until 2005.
REP. TOM DeLAY: What the Democrats are angry about is that we did not accelerate that spending increase. What has happened here is they also don’t want to mention that in the bill signed by the president last week, we raised by 10 percent and added more people to the rolls that don’t pay income taxes. So this notion that we are not taking care of the poor working families of this country is completely false, and most importantly, they voted against it.
KWAME HOLMAN: But even as DeLay spoke, a deal had been reached in the Senate. Republican Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, accompanied by Democrat Blanche Lincoln, said there was agreement to restore the child tax credit benefits for those 6.5 million families; that they had found a way to pay for it, and believed the president would support it.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, Chairman, Finance Committee: I know the White House has been involved in urging to move this along and bring people together, and I think the only thing that drives it is the extent to which everybody in Congress feels that the group of people that benefit from this legislation ought to get their checks at the same time as everybody else gets the child tax refund.
KWAME HOLMAN: Thursday afternoon, the full Senate approved the restoration of the child tax credit benefits by a vote of 94- 2. The next move now is up to House Majority Leader Tom Delay. Aware of the action in Senate, delay seemed somewhat subdued late Thursday when minority whip Steny Hoyer questioned him about the schedule for the week ahead.
REP. STENY HOYER, Minority Whip: Am I correct, then, that there are no plans next week to have on the floor of the House, as far as you know, a child tax credit bill?
REP. TOM DeLAY: I cannot say no plans. As the gentleman knows, in this business you never say never.
KWAME HOLMAN: With child tax credit refund checks scheduled to be mailed out in early July, the House has to rush to join the Senate if those 6.5 million recipients are to be included, or the House still could decide not to act at all.