Senate restores some of Bush tax cut
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One day after Democrats successfully sliced $450 billion out of President Bush's 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut, Republicans restored some of that loss Thursday through a flurry of late-night votes on budget amendments.
But GOP leaders were still doubtful they could muster enough votes for the President's full tax cut in the evenly divided Senate.
The Senate knocked the overall 10-year tax cut back up to $1.28 trillion after Vice President Dick Cheney cast his second tie-breaking vote to approve a measure offered by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, which returned $69 billion to the tax cut for marriage penalty relief.
The Senate also approved a measure offered by Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, restoring another $5 billion in long-term tax cuts and an $85 billion Democratic give back for 2001.
But GOP leaders acknowledged that the non-binding budget resolution the 50-50 Senate will vote on Friday will likely include language calling for a tax cut that falls short of $1.6 trillion.
After days of tense meetings, White House attempts to convince key moderate Sen. Jim Jeffords, D-Vermont, to back Bush's plan seem to have failed.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said talks with Jeffords are "presumed over."
"I've about run that string out," said Lott.
In exchange for his vote for Bush's budget, Jeffords was demanding an increase of some $180 billion over 10 years for the federal government's share of special education funding.
An aide to Jeffords said after a final meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney Thursday left him unconvinced the special education program would be fully funded, the Vermont Republican wrote Cheney rejecting White House overtures
Since Republican senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island vowed to oppose Bush's $1.94 trillion budget blueprint for 2002, and Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia pledged his support, losing Jeffords vote means Bush is one vote shy of victory.
Lott told reporters he still has other "avenues to pursue" to deliver his new President's budget intact, but conceded he might have to go below $1.6 trillion to draw any Democrats.
One Democrat the White House has been actively courting is Ben Nelson, a freshman from Nebraska.
Unlike his colleagues who by-and-large do not want more than a $750 billion tax cut, Nelson says he wants at least $1.25 over 10 years.
According to sources close to the senator, White House aides cornered him off the Senate floor Thursday and ushered him into a private meeting with Cheney.
An Nelson aide said the vice president told him he needed his help for their "endgame" strategy, but the Nebraska Democrat told him he would not cross party lines to help Bush unless he negotiates with Democrats for a bipartisan tax plan.
GOP and White House aides cited Democrats Max Cleland of Georgia and Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, both up for re-election in 2002, as two other potential converts.
Democratic leadership aides privately say the only other Democrat they fear may defect is Nelson.
Half a dozen Democrats have signed onto a bipartisan compromise sponsored by Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, for a $1.25 trillion tax cut.
But Lott said talks with Breaux and his coalition were not bearing fruit either.
Republicans won a victory key to crafting the specifics of their tax cut by applying so-called "reconciliation" rules to the budget which allow the tax-writing Finance Committee to write a bill that is shielded from Democratic procedural delays.
Should the Senate approve something less than a $1.6 trillion tax cut, backers of the Bush plan were hopeful of restoring it though the House-Senate conference on the budget.
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