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Archive for Wednesday, March 31, 2004

House stops bill to curb tax cuts

March 31, 2004

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— The House killed a Democratic drive Tuesday to make it tougher for lawmakers to reduce taxes, as Republicans by the slimmest of margins rescued President Bush's tax-cutting agenda from an embarrassing rebuke.

The 209-209 tally, one shy of the majority Democrats needed to prevail, came only after the chamber's GOP leaders kept the roll call open an extra 23 minutes so they could coax several Republicans to switch their votes.

Eleven Republicans, mostly moderates from the Northeast and Midwest, ended up voting for the nonbinding Democratic provision, which urged House budget negotiators to accept Senate-approved curbs on new tax cuts.

Though Republicans prevailed, the vote underscored how election-year concern about record federal deficits may be eroding Republican solidarity over President Bush's tax-cutting agenda. This year's shortfall is projected to near an unprecedented $500 billion.

"The message was clear: There is a bipartisan support in the House and Senate for the principle that deficits do matter and that" restrictions on new tax cuts are "the necessary first step to getting our nation's long-term fiscal health in order," a coalition of conservative House Democrats said in a written statement.

Most Republicans showed little taste for backing down, at least for now.

They said the rules Democrats want would hinder Congress from extending tax cuts that will expire after this year -- in effect, they said, paving the way for tax increases.

"When you cut taxes the economy grows and revenues to the government grow. That is a basic Republican philosophy," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told reporters. "I'm not interested in something that would negate our philosophy."

The $2.4 trillion budget for next year that the Senate approved on March 12 requires tax increases or spending cuts to pay for any new tax reductions or enhanced benefits for programs like Medicare. Sixty of the 100 senators could vote to ignore the rule.

The White House and Senate GOP leaders tried killing the provision, but Democrats and four moderate Republican senators banded together to prevail.

The House version of the budget has no such provision. House leaders have promised a vote before Memorial Day on a separate bill requiring budget savings to pay for benefit increases, but not for tax cuts.

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