CONGRESS Budget is in trouble in Senate
Debate on the budget could begin today, the Senate majority leader said.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A rebellion among moderate Republican senators trying to curb tax cuts has thrust the compromise $2.4 trillion budget for 2005 into deep trouble in the Senate, despite the measure's House passage.
The House used a mostly party-line 216-213 vote Wednesday to approve the fiscal blueprint, a modest one-year plan shorn of any long-range policies on deficit-reduction or job creation to minimize controversy.
Republican leaders were hoping the House vote and pressure from administration officials would get Senate GOP moderates to relent.
"I hope senators recognize the importance of helping our nation's families and urge them to act quickly to make sure millions of taxpayers don't get hit with a tax hike," Treasury Secretary John Snow said in a written statement.
Lack of support
Although many House moderates heeded their GOP leaders' appeal for support on the spending measure, four of their Senate colleagues -- plus moderate Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, another target of lobbying by the legislation's supporters -- were not as ready to accommodate.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Wednesday became the last of the group to say she would oppose the budget, leaving GOP leaders two votes shy of what they needed for approval, at least for now. The moderates said record federal deficits mean tax cuts should be constrained.
As GOP leaders searched for support, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he might begin debate anyway on the legislation today -- even with the moderates holding firm.
"If that's the reality, we may as well show it to the world," Frist told reporters.
A failure by the GOP-run Congress to complete a budget would be an election-year embarrassment for the party, whose leaders vowed to pass a spending plan to highlight their ability to govern. It is also a slap at Bush, who has opposed the tax-cut curbs GOP moderates and Democrats want.
Having no budget would make it harder for Congress to cut taxes and raise the government's borrowing limit later this year.
The budget measure is a guide for future tax and spending bills. The compromise version, reached in House-Senate negotiations and approved by the House late Wednesday would pave the way for tax cuts, but ones more modest than what Bush proposed.
It would impose constraints on tax cuts for one year, although exempting a single-year $27.5 billion tax bill Congress is expected to pass this year. That measure keeps the lowest 10 percent tax bracket, the $1,000 per child tax credit and breaks for two-income married couples from getting smaller, as scheduled under current law.
It also claims to leave next year's deficit at $367 billion -- just below last year's $375 billion record, and $4 billion more than what forecasters expect without the budget's proposed policies. The measure also would bestow big boosts on defense and anti-terrorism programs, with only slight increases for other domestic programs.
The House vote and the apparent impasse in the Senate culminate a two-month standoff between the two GOP-led chambers over whether record deficits should require future tax cuts to be limited. That conflict has clearly angered House leaders.
"We'll do what we can do, and good luck to them," the No. 3 House GOP leader, Roy Blunt of Missouri, said of the Senate.
In March, Democrats and moderate Republicans forced into the original Senate version a requirement that tax cuts and expanded benefits be paid for with either spending cuts or tax increases for five years.
That passed the Senate. The House version had no such restrictions. Finally, a compromise was reached settling on the one-year tax curbs.