House and Senate leaders called for a final vote on a compromise budget package Thursday. Kwame Holman reports from Capitol Hill.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican leaders in Congress today hoped for swift and decisive votes on the largest tax cut in 20 years, and tighter federal spending limits. It wasn't quite the tax cut and spending plan President Bush originally proposed in his budget blueprint, but after several weeks of negotiations with Congress, the President still got most of what he wanted.
REP. JOHN SUNUNU: It's balanced. I think it's fair. It keeps us on the right course. It took a lot of hard work and compromise. People are quick to note that the President did not get 100% of everything that he requested in the budget that will pass in the House and Senate, but it still reflects his priorities and our shared priorities as Congress.
KWAME HOLMAN: For instance, the President wanted $1.6 trillion worth of tax cuts over ten years. The Republican-controlled House went along with that amount, but the evenly split Senate knocked the size of the tax cuts down to $1.25 trillion. This week, all sides agreed on tax cuts totaling $1.35 trillion, which includes a $100 billion rebate for taxpayers, much of it this year.
REP. ROB PORTMAN: And at a time when the economy is faltering, it is extremely important, even more important, that we allow people to keep a little more of their hard-earned money to be able to take care of their own needs, their own family needs, but also to ensure that we get back to the kind of economic growth that we all hope for in this country.
KWAME HOLMAN: The President also wanted to limit spending to a 4% increase over current levels. Again the House agreed, and again the Senate differed, and doubled proposed spending to 8%. All sides were able to come together on a figure of 5%.
CONGRESSMAN: When we were spending over the last couple of years increases of 8% to 12%, depending on who you talk to, and now we're restricting that spending to less than 5%, that's an amazing accomplishment.
KWAME HOLMAN: But it was a solid group of moderates in the Senate known as the centrists who forced the President to negotiate. And because of their success, approval of the budget by the full Senate today seemed a formality. But because all revenue-related bills must originate in the House of Representatives, the Senate could not vote until the House did, and that just wasn't happening.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Michigan.
SPOKESMAN: Mr. Speaker, I have a privileged motion at the desk.
CLERK: Mr. Bonior moves that the house do now adjourn.
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, House Democrats, outnumbered and unable to defeat the President's budget on their own, used a series of procedural motions to delay debate and the vote on the budget.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Because of the outrageous procedures on the budget, I now move that this be taken by a roll call vote.
KWAME HOLMAN: Off the floor, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt complained Democrats had been ignored.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: This has not been a bipartisan procedure. They did not include our conservative Democrats in these negotiations. This has primarily been a behind-closed-door negotiation between Republicans. They've got a lot of problems on their side between their conservatives and their more moderate members. They still haven't worked out even those disagreements.
KWAME HOLMAN: Gephardt was right. A dispute between two of the Republican-controlled committees-- budget, which allocates money, and appropriations, which spends it-- forced House Republican leaders to pull the budget bill off the floor at midmorning. Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle tried to explain the nature of the dispute.
REP. JIM NUSSLE: Well, imagine if you will, 435, 535 members of Congress trying to order one pizza. Some like pepperoni, some like sausage, some don't like mushrooms, some want anchovies. And no matter what kind of pizza you order, you're going to have somebody who's not quite happy with the final product.
REP. JIM NUSSLE: Any time you put two committees with jurisdiction over how to carve up that pizza I was talking about before, how to make those decisions, you are going to have some squabbling.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: The problem, again, comes from the fact that there's not enough money in this budget to meet the legitimate needs of the American people. And the appropriators on the Republican side have figured that out, and that's why they're upset. And they want to know how these numbers work. They're about as much in the dark as we are. It's a sham. It's a fraud, and that's the reason they're having trouble on their side. And they may not get it done today; I don't know what they'll get done.
KWAME HOLMAN: And until the House completes its work on the budget, the Senate can't get started.
REPORTER: Have you had any discussions yet with Senator Lott about what the Senate will do, when you'll take it up?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: The Senate will be asked to take it up after the house has acted, but we are in no hurry. At this point I would be inclined to say we are going take all the time we need to look at it, be able to answer a lot of questions that so far have not been answered, and be as deliberative as possible. There is no hurry here.
REP. TOM DeLAY: For the past 100 days, members of the democrat leadership have devoted themselves to one thing and to one thing only: Total and complete obstruction. At every turn, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle and the rest of the Democrat leadership have fought to increase government spending and to take more of American families' money.
KWAME HOLMAN: Reporter: Republican leaders spent most of the afternoon rewriting the disputed portions of the budget agreement. And the full House is expected to take a final vote near midnight. That would push the Senate's work well into early Friday morning.