New York Times
Tuesday 25 March 2003
The Senate dealt President Bush a stinging setback this afternoon when it reversed itself and voted to reduce the size of his tax cut plan.
Senators voted, 51 to 48, to approve tax cuts of $350 billion through 2013, rather than the $726 billion that Mr. Bush has made the cornerstone of his economic stimulus package.
The about-face came as it became increasingly clear that the war in Iraq might drag on longer than many people had thought, thus making it impossible to gauge what it might ultimately cost. And long before the start of the war, it became clear that budget deficits would be a certainty for years to come.
Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, who has been a leader in efforts to trim back the president's tax plan, told reporters that "concern about the cost and the uncertainty" of the Iraq campaign had convinced some senators that deep tax cuts could not be justified.
Senator Don Nickles, the Oklahoma Republican who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, argued before the vote that lowering the tax cuts would "cut the growth out of the growth package."
The timing could hardly have been worse for the president, with the White House having just sent a request for a $74.7 billion supplemental appropriation to Capitol Hill to finance the war in Iraq.
Today's action came only four days after the Senate and House approved a $2.2 trillion spending plan for the next fiscal year, with President Bush's tax proposals part of the measure. The House voted, 215 to 212, on Friday to give the president all the $726 billion in tax cuts that he wanted. The Senate voted, 62 to 38, the same day to trim only $100 billion from the tax cuts that Mr. Bush is advocating.
Thus, even before today's surprise vote, there was sure to be heavy negotiating between the House and Senate as the White House's allies in the Capitol sought to restore at least some of what Mr. Bush wanted.
The vote today to scale back the president's plans drastically, as part of a budget measure for the next fiscal year, was possible in part because three Republican senators Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine voted against the president's proposal. No Democrat voted for the president's plan today. Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, a Democrat who often votes with Republicans on tax issues, did not vote.
Mr. Chafee also voted against the president on Friday, as did two other Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and John S. McCain of Arizona. But Ms. Collins and Mr. McCain sided with Mr. Bush today.
Since Republicans hold a slim margin in the Senate, there will no doubt be considerable persuasion and arm-twisting to reverse today's outcome, or at least to restore some of what Mr. Bush wants. (There are 51 Republican senators, 48 Democrats and 1 independent, James M. Jeffords of Vermont, who votes with the Democrats.)
It will not be surprising if the White House applies intense pressure to the three Republican crossover senators in hope of achieving at least a 50-50 tie, which would then be broken by Vice President Dick Cheney in his role as president of the Senate. Mr. Voinovich, in particular, may be under considerable pressure, since he is up for re-election in 2004.
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