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KWAME HOLMAN: The grounds of the U.S. Capitol were quiet today. It was a sharp contrast to the flurry of activity yesterday, as leaders of both parties reacted to the announcement by Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords that he would leave the Republican Party, turning over control of the Senate to the Democrats. Today, attention centered on the members of the House and Senate’s Tax Writing Committees. For the last several days they’ve been at work on a compromise version of an expected 11-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut package. Today, they felt the extra pressure to complete a bill so that members can vote on it and leave town for their week-long Memorial Day recess. Iowa Republican Charles Grassley heads up the Senate’s Finance Committee.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: And I feel that we’re making very, very real progress this morning and maybe, quite candidly, the first time we’ve really been able to make some breakthrough. So I hope that we’ll be very successful.
SPOKESMAN: Do you think you’ll get done today?
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Our goal is to try to get it done today.
SPOKESMAN: That’s our intention.
SPOKESMAN: The answer is of course check us with tomorrow.
KWAME HOLMAN: Grassley’s counterpart is House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas of California.
REP. BILL THOMAS: In any of these negotiations where there is a will there is a way. And I believe that clearly between last night and today there is an expression of a will to do it, and we’re simply going to do it.
KWAME HOLMAN: The problem for the House and Senate negotiators is that the two bodies approved tax cut plans with significant differences. But both conform to the broad outlines proposed by President Bush. They agreed to: cuts in tax rates, marriage penalty tax relief, repeal of the estate tax, and doubling the child tax credit to $1,000. However, the House-passed version mirrors the President’s call to lower the top tax rate from 39.6% to 33%. But the Senate version offers a smaller cut, to 36%. Senate moderates succeeded in diverting the $250 billion saved there to fund more education programs over the next 10 years. Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, says the negotiators may compromise somewhere in the middle.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: That’s correct. It’s a question of whether that marginal rate would be — come down from the 36 that is in the Senate bill to 35, and up from the bill in the House of Representatives from 33 to 35.
KWAME HOLMAN: But another key issue to the negotiations was the desire of Senate moderates to focus more of the tax cuts on lower income people. A proposal by Senator Snowe would refund the child tax credit to even the lowest income families, who may already pay no income taxes at all.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: One of my major issues, the refundability of the child tax credit. I know that’s one of the key issues of differences and disagreement with the House of Representatives. And I feel very strongly about that provision, because I do think it will benefit, you know, those making minimum wage, those between ten and twenty thousand. It will benefit ten million more children than the House of Representatives’ figure.
KWAME HOLMAN: For their part many Democrats kept to their long- standing position that the tax cut is too large. Congressman Charles Rangel of New York is himself one of the tax bill negotiators.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: This tax bill, no matter how you look at it, is going to impact the ability of the Federal government’s ability to fund programs for the next 10 or 20 years.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late this afternoon House leaders told members a compromise tax-cut plan was nearly ready and members should expect to vote on it in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. The Senate also is prepared to vote tomorrow. Passage of the bill would clear the way for Senator Jim Jeffords’ power- shifting departure from the ranks of Senate Republicans, because yesterday Jeffords he said he would officially become an independent once Congress approves a tax-cut plan and sends it to President Bush for his signature.