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GOP maneuvers Bush budget plan for Senate vote

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House has cleared a major hurdle by securing support from all 50 Senate Republicans to bring the president's budget blueprint to the floor next week, the vital legislative prelude to Senate passage.

The blueprint makes room for Bush's entire $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax cut and a $60 billion immediate tax cut this year.

GOP leaders devised a plan to thwart them by bringing the House budget resolution to the floor after Senate Democrats threatened to erect a series of legislative hurdles to block its consideration.

To do that, the White House needed the support of all 50 Senate Republicans to counter unanimous Democratic opposition. The White House and Senate GOP leaders secured that unanimity Thursday.

Debate on the budget resolution begins next week, and the Republicans wanted to ensure they had enough votes to cut off debate in case the Democrats carried out their threats.

White House officials and aides to the Senate GOP leadership predicted the president's blueprint would prevail in the Senate with near-unanimous Republican support and the support of Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia and as many as two other Democrats.

Although one or two Republicans may not vote for the budget blueprint itself -- Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee and Vermont's James Jeffords are the possibilities -- the White House and Senate GOP leaders considered obtaining 50 votes on their procedural move the crucial vote.

The White House had pledges from 47 of the 50 Republicans on the vote to cut off debate by early Thursday. Commitments from the other three were won late Thursday at a meeting called by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi.

Sources told CNN that Lott appealed to the reluctant Republicans to stand with the party to protect Bush's budget and their ability to control the legislative agenda in a 50-50 Senate.

"We've got the votes," said a senior Senate Republican aide. "And it's because members understood this was about the president's agenda and our ability to control the floor."

Democrats had threatened a raft of delaying tactics to push consideration of the Bush budget beyond Congress' scheduled Easter recess, which begins April 6.

"They were trying to play stall ball and they overplayed their hand," the GOP Senate source said. "The stalling tactics drove our members back to us."

Republicans are desperate to conclude work on the budget and present the outline to Bush before the end of his first 100 days in office, which is April 30.

A senior administration official told CNN the White House was increasingly optimistic Thursday of securing unanimous party support on the budget resolution and that the Lott meeting was the final ingredient. "This is not a surprise. We have worked very hard," the official said.

Significantly, no senior administration officials were present. All through the week Vice President Dick Cheney, Budget Director Mitch Daniels and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill answered questions about the president's budget and lobbied Republicans.

But unanimity on the budget blueprint does not guarantee full GOP support later this year when Bush's tax cut comes to the floor. Among the late converts on the budget blueprint, Chafee and Jeffords reserved the right to oppose the president's tax bill later this year.

"I said I would support the process. If there is a $1.6 trillion tax cut in there I'm not going to vote for it," said Chafee.

Another source said the White House's lack of involvement in the campaign finance reform debate, during which many Republican moderates ignored party orthodoxy and voted against killer amendments to the McCain-Feingold bill, built a greater degree of loyalty to the president's position on the budget.



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