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Budget Resolution on Schedule, but Tax Bill Will Require Post-Recess Action

While Republican leaders had hoped to finish the budget and a tax-cut plans before the spring recess, it appears most likely they will accomplish only the former.

After the House and Senate passed budget resolutions with different tax-cut and economic growth figures, it became unlikely both chambers could clear tax bills before the break.

Budget conferees are on track to hammer out a compromise tax-cut resolution before April 11, the last work day prior to the recess, said Jonathan Grella, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). But, Grella added, House leaders concede they may have to wait until after the two-week break to bring the bill to the floor.

In a surprise move last week, the Senate more than halved President Bush’s $726 billion tax-cut proposal to $350 billion, which would be protected under the reconciliation procedure.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he would keep fighting to raise the number closer to the original $726 billion.

“The growth package will be somewhere between $724 billion and $350 billion,” he said Wednesday, noting that he continues to meet with individual Senators to try to persuade them to raise the number.

But the budget should be finished before the break. House Republicans expect to have negotiations wrapped up and the final bill voted in before recessing, while Frist said he will “make sure the Senate is doing its business” by finishing the budget next week.

In the meantime, both chambers are working on a supplemental appropriations bill to pay for the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Leaders on both sides are planning to include relief for the beleaguered airline industry as well.

Both the House and Senate Budget committees reported bills exceeding Bush’s original $74.7 billion request, coming in between $78 billion and $79 billion.

After slogging through Democratic amendments today and Thursday, Frist said he hopes to wrap up debate Thursday night.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) said his party is set to offer numerous amendments aimed at increasing the bill’s appropriation for homeland security.

Democrats will try to bolster spending for emergency personnel, port security, border patrol, transportation security and chemical plant security, he said.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) will offer an amendment that would increase military personnel’s “family separation” pay from $100 a month to $400, Daschle said. Soldiers can use that money to pay for things such as day care while away at war.

“A hundred dollars doesn’t go very far, and Senator Durbin would provide $400, which obviously still doesn’t cover all the needs of child care but goes a lot farther,” said Daschle, who added that he last time the amount was changed was in 1991.

The House will begin debate Thursday.