KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate has set aside 20 hours over the next two days to debate its reconciliation bill, so despite the importance and complexity of the legislation, members weren't exactly fighting for floor time when the Senate began debate this morning.
SEN. WILLIAM ROTH, (R) Delaware: Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to continue for another 15 minutes.
SPOKESMAN: It is so ordered. Thank you.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, that wasn't the case on the other side of the Capitol, where 60 House members waited their turn to be heard by the House Rules Committee.
REP. MARTIN SABO, (D) Minnesota: I've been here for three hours, and I'm supposed to be someplace else.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Right.
KWAME HOLMAN: Almost every member has something he or she wants added or removed from the massive reconciliation bill, and the Rules Committee must decide which members will be allowed to bring their amendments to the floor for a vote.
REP. MARTIN SABO: I am busily trying to get votes for the proposal, and that's one of the reasons I have to leave.
KWAME HOLMAN: Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, the chief architect of the House Republicans' bill, agreed that the plan isn't perfect but said it gets the job done.
REP. JOHN KASICH, Chairman, Budget Committee: Mr. Chairman, there are some concerns that people on the Democratic side will have with our proposal, some of which will be well-founded. When you're moving this much and making this level of change, you don't get everything right, but, frankly, I will be big enough to say where we didn't do it right. But I think, overall, we have done a great job. I think we're--we've kept our word, and we have put the country first and politics second.
KWAME HOLMAN: The House Reconciliation Bill is very similar to the Senate plan. Both plans call for a balanced budget in seven years. Both contain $245 billion in tax cuts, including a reduction in the capital gains tax, and a $500 per child tax credit, with family income eligibility capped at $110,000 in the Senate bill and $200,000 in the House bill. Both bills also reduce the number of low-income workers eligible for the earned income tax credit. The House and Senate bills reduce spending for welfare programs by $102 billion and $66 billion respectively. Most federal welfare programs would be abolished, with money sent to the states in the form of block grants. Spending for Medicaid, the federal program providing health care to the poor, would be reduced by $180 billion. The Senate would require continued coverage of pregnant women and children under 13. The House would allow states to determine whom to cover. Spending for Medicare would be reduced by $270 billion. Doctors and hospitals would be reimbursed at a reduced rate, and wealthy seniors would pay substantially more in premiums. All seniors would be given the option of joining private managed care plans. And both bills call for $13 billion in savings from farm subsidy programs. Savings in the Senate bill would come from reducing the number of federally-subsidized acres, while the House bill would phase out the farm subsidy program altogether. The Reconciliation Bill contains hundreds of changes in government programs and services, and it appears every change is accompanied by a Democratic critic. This morning, New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan found the tax provisions most egregious.
SEN. DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN, (D) New York: Here is the data: 51 percent of the American population will have a tax increase; 49 percent have a tax decrease. How we can do this and then talk about fiscal responsibility eludes this Senator.
KWAME HOLMAN: Michigan Republican Spencer Abraham wouldn't let Moynihan's charge go unchallenged.
SEN. SPENCER ABRAHAM, (R) Michigan: And according to the Joint Tax Committee Calculations, in the first year of this tax bill 90 percent of the tax cuts will go to people whose earnings are below $100,000 a year. Over 3/4 or 77 percent of the proposal's tax cuts will go to those making under $75,000 in the first year.
KWAME HOLMAN: The upcoming votes on budget reconciliation lacked the drama of two years ago when President Clinton's tax and spending plan passed each House of Congress by only one vote. Approval of the Republicans' seven-year balanced budget plan this week is virtually assured, and so is a presidential veto.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI, Chairman, Budget Committee: Veto and veto threats, as you might want to issue them day by day, do not get you, Mr. President, a balanced budget.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN, (D) North Dakota: Following that veto, then there must, by necessity, follow some kind of compromise. This system is predicated on compromise.
KWAME HOLMAN: Despite the expected veto, the debate on the current Reconciliation Bill will continue, allowing the legislative process to run its course.