Senate deals sharp blow to Bush tax plans
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate dealt a blow to President Bush's hopes for a 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut Wednesday by approving a Democratic amendment to the fiscal 2002 budget resolution that would trim $448 billion from the tax cut and dedicate it to education and debt reduction.
The 53-47 vote came just hours after a key moderate Republican, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, said he would support a Democratic compromise tax-cut plan, making for a bad day indeed in the Senate for the president.
The amendment was offered by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. It would slash the GOP tax cut in favor of $250 billion in education spending and nearly as much for debt reduction.
After three Republicans -- Jeffords, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voted for the amendment -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, changed his vote in favor of the measure, saying he hoped to come back later with a GOP counterproposal.
Lott's action gives him the option of calling for a later revote on the amendment.
Georgia Democrat Zell Miller voted against the amendment.
"This is a huge blow," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who lamented that it brings Bush's tax cut down to about $1.1 trillion dollars.
"It's back to the drawing board," Hutchison added.
Democrats were quick to claim victory, saying it is now time for Bush to negotiate on the size and scope of the tax package.
"I think the $1.6 or the $2.5 trillion tax cut as it was originally proposed could be officially proclaimed as dead," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota.
"Of course these days -- with modern medicine -- everything could be revived, and I suppose there is always that chance. But it is looking deader and deader," Daschle said.
The vote seemed to give even more significance to another complication for Bush -- a bipartisan move led by Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, to draft a compromise tax-cut plan that could get votes from both sides of the aisle.
In a dramatic move earlier in the day, Vermont's Jeffords emerged from negotiations with White House operatives over funding he wants for special education, saying the talks failed and he was signing on to Breaux's compromise.
"I am not precluding the hope and belief that when the president fully understands what this means and what my amendment would mean, that we will hopefully have a change in attitude and that my goal is the same as John Breaux's," Jeffords said. "I would like to see us vote out a budget by 90 votes ... not just hanging on by a vote or two."
Because Republican Lincoln Chafee has already rejected Bush's tax cut and signed on to the compromise, the loss of Jeffords would make passage of the president's $1.6 trillion tax cut through an evenly split Senate highly improbable.
Jeffords' support of the Democratic compromise, which also has the support of Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a moderate Democrat whom the Republicans have been actively courting, would mean the White House would have to start negotiating the size and scope of the tax cut, something the Bush team did not want to do this early in the budget process.
Meanwhile, in a largely party-line 51-49 vote, Republicans passed an amendment to increase agriculture spending by $64 billion over 10 years. The measure was offered to lure away those senators who want increased farm spending from a Democratic amendment that would take that money from the tax cut.
The Democratic amendment, offered by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-South Dakota, would have taken $88 billion from the GOP tax cut to boost agriculture spending.
With the help of Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote, Republicans passed a measure Tuesday afternoon to allow up to $300 billion for prescription drug coverage under Medicare. That amendment effectively killed a Democratic alternative that would have taken some $180 billion away from the tax cut for Medicare.
Daschle accused Republicans of compromising all else at the expensive of Bush's tax-cut plan. He said their actions show "what I think they truly are, harsh and right-wing, with absolutely no indication for an appreciation for compassion."
"I've never seen an administration in all my years which is more intransigent, more unwilling to work with Democrats or across the aisle," Daschle said. "It is amazing to me -- it is breathtaking -- how remarkably unwilling they are to sit down and try and find common ground."
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