Full Bush tax cut still in jeopardy
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republicans and White House aides acknowledge the budget the Senate is expected to pass Friday will likely fall short of President Bush's full 10-year $1.6 trillion tax cut plan.
"We're likely to see something that is a bit smaller (than $1.6 trillion)," said White House legislative liaison Nicholas Calio.
The Senate ended in a flurry of late-night votes, taking the tax cut on a rollercoaster ride, adding and subtracting money that finally totaled $1.2 trillion when it adjourned Thursday night.
Although Republicans recovered some of what they lost after Democrats sliced the president's tax cut by $450 billion Wednesday, GOP leaders were doubtful they could muster enough votes for the president's full tax cut in the evenly-divided Senate.
"We now know the parameters of the debate -- it's between $1.2 trillion and $1.6," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania. "Our goal is to get it as close to $1.6 as we can."
After days of tense meetings, White House attempts to convince key moderate Sen. Jim Jeffords, D-Vermont, to back Bush's plan seemed to have failed.
Since Republican Sen. 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 would leave Bush one vote shy of victory.
Jeffords and nearly half a dozen other moderates have backed a $1.25 trillion compromise proposed by Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said talks with Jeffords are "presumed over."
"I've about run that string out," Lott said.
An aide to Jeffords said after a final meeting with Cheney Thursday left him unconvinced the special education program would be fully funded, the Vermont Republican wrote Cheney rejecting White House overtures.
Lott earlier told reporters he still has other "avenues to pursue" to deliver the president's budget intact, but conceded he may 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 trillion over 10 years.
According to sources close to the senator, White House aides cornered Nelson off the Senate floor Thursday and ushered him into a private meeting with Cheney.
A Nelson aide said the vice president told him he needed his help for their "endgame" strategy, but the Nebraska Democrat told Cheney he would not cross party lines to help the president 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 said the only other Democrat they fear might defect is Nelson.
Calio met last Thursday with Jeffords, Chafee, Nelson and Breaux to open lines of communication, but sources close to that meeting said nothing was agreed to.
Republicans won a victory key toward crafting the specifics of their tax cut by applying so-called "reconciliation" rules to the budget, which allows the tax-writing finance committee to write a bill that is shielded from Democratic procedural delays.
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.
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