Budget Battle Concludes
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KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate spent most of today disposing of some 40 amendments in order to bring the budget outline for the next fiscal year to a vote this afternoon.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI: First I want to say to the Senate, we’re getting very close. We only have about four amendments on each side, and I think we can work them out.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the real focus was on the floor where final negotiations toward a ten-year tax cut and spending plan were underway. Leaders were trying to fashion a deal that would satisfy main- line Republicans and Democrats, as well as a small number of centrists from both parties. That was necessary because on Wednesday it became apparent President Bush’s $1.6 trillion, ten-year tax plan could not survive in the evenly divided Senate. Democrats, with the help of three Republicans, voted to divert nearly $500 billion of the tax cut to education programs and federal debt reduction. Today, as the appointed time for the final vote arrived, it became clear some compromise had been reached, only because Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici called for the yeas and nays.
SPOKESMAN: The clerk will call the roll in final passage.
KWAME HOLMAN: And as the vote proceeded, it also was clear that compromise was one more than a few Democrats could support.
SPOKESMAN: Mrs. Carnahan, aye. Mr. Johnson; Mr. Johnson, aye.
KWAME HOLMAN: Though he wasn’t needed to break a tie vote, Vice President Dick Cheney announced the final tally.
DICK CHENEY: The ayes are 65. The nays are 35.
KWAME HOLMAN: The action then shifted to the media gallery, and reporters learned the compromise was just under $1.3 trillion in tax cuts over ten years, about $300 billion below the President’s mark. The Vice President said the administration was satisfied with that outcome for now, but more negotiations lie ahead when Senate and House members meet in a Conference Committee.
DICK CHENEY: I think in the final analysis we made a decision that the best way to proceed was to take the number that was there as of this morning with respect to the overall tax level, I think Pete said, what, 1.3, 1.28, and go with that, rather than try to have another vote this afternoon and take that to conference. And we’re confident that coming out of conference we will get a good number, fairly close to what the President originally recommended.
KWAME HOLMAN: A majority of Democrats voted against the package, but Democratic leaders too declared satisfaction. The package directs tax writing committees to decide how to send $85 billion in tax rebates to Americans during this calendar year.
SEN. KENT CONRAD: It was a Democratic amendment on the floor that put the fiscal stimulus for this year at $85 billion of tax cut to put money in people’s pockets as quickly as possible. And we have said we think it should be a combination of rate cut and direct payments to taxpayers to give a lift to this economy.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said there was even more.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: More importantly than just the tax cut, what we feel good about, of course, is the commitment now to education and the commitment to debt reduction that we felt were so important. Not only that, we have the full commitment to prescription drug benefits. So I think we’ve made good progress this week, and I’m very encouraged by it. I understand some of our Republican friends have called this a victory. If this is a victory, there ought to be more like them.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the spotlight may have been brightest on the handful of Senate centrists, whose commitment to a smaller tax cut than the President’s help force the compromise . The tax cut figure in the resolution is almost exactly what centrist leader John Breaux of Louisiana proposed early in the debate.
SEN. JOHN BREAUX: I that think what we have shown today that it is, in fact, possible to change the political culture of Washington. A vote of 65-35 for a budget is a significant change from the way business was done in the past, and I think it does represent a new day of cooperation between both parties to reach a common goal and a common good.
KWAME HOLMAN: For his, the President says this latest step toward final action on taxes and spending bodes well.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: When the House and Senate complete their work, they will have paved the way so the American people can receive an across-the-board income tax reduction, a doubling of the child credit, relief from the marriage penalty, and the elimination of the death tax. This budget also wisely increases spending on education, funds priorities like Medicare and Social Security, and pays down a record amount of debt.
KWAME HOLMAN: The process begins when Congress returns from its two-week recess.