With Defeat in Sight, Democrats Abandon Tax-Cut Compromise

Posted March 21, 2003 at 3:30pm

Liberal Democrats handed President Bush a win in the budget battle Friday afternoon, abandoning an attempt to scale back his proposed tax cut once defeat appeared imminent.

Moderate Republicans and Democrats had cobbled together a coalition of Senators, led by John Breaux (D-La.), to scale the $726 billion proposal down to $350 billion.

But when a few bellwether lawmakers, including Sens. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), voted against the Breaux amendment, other Members, mostly Democrats, changed their votes to “nay” in a wave.

In the end it only garnered 38 votes, although at one point the amendment was within a few votes of approval.

Many Democrats did not want to approve any tax cuts given the economy’s troubles and the just-begun war in Iraq, but they figured half was better than the whole $726 billion.

However, when the coalition fell apart, they changed their votes because they did not want to be on record as having voted for a tax cut.

The initial popularity of the amendment to the underlying budget resolution — which, Breaux said, had been within a vote or two of passage — shows that many Senators are still uncomfortable with the overall size of the tax cut.

“We have felt that there ought to be a way of reaching an agreement on the size of the tax cut that is reasonable and more balanced than the … tax cut that is currently pending before the Senate,” Breaux said from the floor. “There are some who have suggested that, well, we’d like to have no tax cut whatsoever. I think that would probably be the better course of action.”

Even if the budget passes, it is only a blueprint. Once the tax-writing committees try to implement the mammoth cut, it could die in committee or get shot down on the floor.

In a small victory for Democrats, the Senate did agree to an amendment offered by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) that reduces the tax cut by $100 billion and funnels it into a special war reserve.

The Senate was expected to vote on final passage of the budget resolution later in the afternoon.