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Brake on Tax Cuts Is Barely Rejected

Democratic-led push for a provision urging House budget negotiators to accept Senate-passed curbs fails by a single vote.

March 31, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The House killed a Democratic effort Tuesday to make it tougher for lawmakers to reduce taxes as Republicans by the slimmest of margins rescued President Bush's tax-cutting agenda from an embarrassing rebuke.

The 209-209 tally -- one vote shy of the majority Democrats needed to win -- came only after the chamber's GOP leaders held the roll call open an extra 23 minutes so they could coax several Republicans to switch their votes.

Eleven Republicans, mostly moderates from the Northeast and Midwest, ended up voting for the nonbinding Democratic provision, which urged House budget negotiators to accept Senate-approved curbs on new tax cuts.

Though Republicans prevailed, the vote underscored how election-year concern over record federal deficits may be eroding Republican solidarity over Bush's tax-cutting agenda. This year's deficit is projected to approach $500 billion.

"The message was clear: There is a bipartisan support in the House and Senate for the principle that deficits do matter and that" restrictions on new tax cuts were "the necessary first step to getting our nation's long-term fiscal health in order," a coalition of conservative House Democrats known as the Blue Dogs said in a written statement.

Republicans said that the rules Democrats wanted would hinder Congress from extending tax cuts that would expire after this year -- in effect, they said, paving the way for tax increases.

"When you cut taxes, the economy grows and revenues to the government grow. That is a basic Republican philosophy," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) told reporters. "I'm not interested in something that would negate our philosophy."

Asked later by a reporter whether he would accept compromise limits exempting this year's planned round of tax cuts, DeLay said, "No. It is against everything we believe in."

White House officials joined House leaders in lobbying against the provision Tuesday, spotlighting a GOP concern that it could have slowed the momentum for tax cuts.

The $2.4-trillion budget for next year that the Senate approved on March 12 required tax increases or spending cuts to pay for any new tax reductions or enhanced benefits for programs such as Medicare. Sixty of the 100 senators could vote to ignore the rule.

The House version of the budget has no such provision. House leaders have promised a vote before Memorial Day on a separate bill requiring budget savings to pay for benefit increases, but not for tax cuts.

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