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GOP leaders pushing $2.4 trillion budget

House approves bill; tough fight in Senate

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

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A massive budget bill faces some opposition in the Senate.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Prospects for passing a budget through Congress remain in doubt even though the House cleared the compromise legislation Wednesday night.

The House approved the $2.4 trillion bill by a 216-213 vote, largely along party lines.

But its passage in the Senate -- which is expected to take up the measure Thursday -- is far from certain.

The bill is opposed by moderate Republican senators who insist that any new tax cuts be paid for with offsets in other areas of the budget, something GOP conservatives oppose.

"I just can't believe that once this bill passes the House and gets over to the Senate, that those three or four senators are gonna bring down one of the best budgets we ever seen over an issue that makes it difficult for Republicans to give tax relief," said a frustrated Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

The budget plan sets government spending levels for 2005, but the Senate moderate Republicans want the "pay-as-you-go" requirement to be enforced for the next five years. GOP leaders have offered a one-year compromise.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, echoed DeLay's frustration, saying House Republicans are fed up with capitulating to the Senate.

"For a long time, the House of Representatives tried to bow and scrape and do everything we could to get along with the Senate. We need to work together. But we have to pass what we can pass in this House. Our members will not be tied down in the future years of not being able to react to the economy and do the things we need to do in a responsible way."

House leaders want to make permanent President Bush's tax cuts and pass new cuts they believe will strengthen the economy. Under the "pay-as-you-go" restrictions, the Senate would have to get over a difficult 60-vote hurdle to pass tax cuts without offsets.

"I think it behooves them to find the votes," Hastert continued. "To have a small number of people dictate to this nation what they can do and can't do is just not acceptable."

GOP leaders would not outline what their strategy will be if the Senate doesn't pass the bill, which Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, R-Oklahoma, said will be on the floor Thursday.

In the past, Republicans have been very critical of Democrats for not passing budgets, so not getting a budget passed through a Republican-controlled House and Senate could be politically embarrassing.

"It's not easily done," Nickles conceded about the bill's prospects in the Senate. But, he said, "I hope people who have reservations will compare the difference between having a budget and not having a budget."


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