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Three Republicans Join Senate Democrats to Slash Bush Tax Cut

Senate Democrats scored a huge victory Tuesday, peeling off enough Republican votes to slice President Bush’s $726 billion tax-cut proposal almost in half.

After coming within a few votes of passage Friday, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) won a 51-48 approval of his amendment to reduce the tax cut by $396 billion. Republicans had breathed a sigh of relief Friday when liberals — who did not want to be on record as voting for any tax cut — sank a similar amendment.

The amendment, which garnered votes from Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) and George Voinovich (Ohio) on Tuesday, redirects $396 billion away from tax cuts and into a Social Security reserve fund.

In light of heavier-than-expected casualty reports coming from the Iraqi battlefield and Bush’s request for $75 billion to pay for the first 30 days of the war, some Senators were leery of approving a massive a tax cut now.

Democrats’ victory comes on top of a successful effort Friday by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to redirect $100 billion of the tax cut into a war emergency fund and another by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

Levin’s amendment, which passed by voice vote Tuesday, strips another $4.7 billion from the tax cut. It closes a loophole corporations have taken advantage of when they relocate offshore. That revenue would then be spent on education programs.

These changes will likely lead to a difficult conference committee fight — the Republican-led House last week approved a fiscal 2004 budget resolution that accommodates the president’s entire proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday morning that he hoped a conference report would be ready by the spring recess, which begins April 11. But the day’s votes could throw off that timetable.

While the Senate continued to slog through amendments — each party had 40 — the House has turned its attention to Bush’s $75 billion supplemental spending request, which Bush wants finished by the recess.

“In order to meet the president’s completion deadline of April 11, the bill needs to pass the House by the end of next week,” House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) said in a statement. “I have been given assurances by my leadership that the wartime supplemental will be given priority consideration on the House floor.”

He said the committee would mark up the bill next week.

Frist said his aim is for the Senate to meet Bush’s deadline.

The president has asked Congress to approve $63 billion for the war in Iraq and other military operations, $2.4 billion for post-war reconstruction and aid for Iraq, and $4 billion for homeland security.

That was on the low end of the $70 billion to $100 billion estimates that were bandied about earlier this week.

“I was very pleased to see that [the supplemental] was $75 billion and not the $100 billion people were reporting it would be,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Republican leaders said they want the bill to hew closely to the president’s request and will avoid “add-ons.”

“I will resist the addition of extraneous provisions that are unrelated to the war effort,” Young said. “This bill is too important for our troops for it to get bogged down by non-appropriations issues.”

DeLay added: “Democrats are always asking for more money with little or no credibility on why they want it. I rely on the president to know what he needs rather than some pseudo-expert running around the House or Senate.”

The Texan does favor granting the airline industry’s request for another bailout but said that can be done outside of the supplemental.

“We can do the airline bill, whatever it would end up being, as a separate bill,” he said.

Even before the day had passed, Democrats were critical of the administration’s handling of the supplemental.

Before Tuesday, the White House had said it could not give appropriators even a ballpark figure of what it would need to pay for the war. “Yet, within 96 hours of the budget passing [the House] they provided very specific numbers,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.

“It was a tactical decision” to delay the supplemental request until after Congress agreed to the president’s tax cut, Hoyer added.

But with dozens of amendments still pending in the Senate, it was unclear how much of the president’s tax package would remain intact before the budget resolution heads to conference committee.

Ben Pershing contributed to this report.

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