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Senate Republicans Push Unequal Budget Resolution

While Republicans try to pull a proverbial rabbit out of the budget hat, Democrats warn that a creative compromise could damage the legislative process.

As conference negotiations stalled late Tuesday night over how big of a tax cut to protect through reconciliation instructions, Republican leaders proposed letting each chamber use its own number for the tax cut.

Once word spread Wednesday that Republicans were asking the Senate parliamentarian to allow two separate tax cut numbers included in the budget conference report, top Democrats wondered aloud if such maneuvering violates Senate rules.

“It’s a bizarre proposal,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said.

By early afternoon, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) released a statement adding: “The idea that House and Senate GOP leaders would write two tax reconciliation numbers in the budget — $550 billion for the House and $350 billion for the Senate — is not only a cry of desperation by our Republican friends, but also an outrage and a farce!”

“If it works for taxes, how about for education” and everything else, Daschle joked. “It virtually nullifies the reconciliation [process] and circumvents the Senate Finance Committee. It would be a fate accompli for the House … [and be] extremely dangerous for the institution.”

But GOP Members and aides said Daschle’s worry that Republicans would simply slide the higher House tax cut — which could be as much as $726 billion — into a final bill and force the Senate to vote it up or down is unfounded.

“We don’t see it as an opening to scam $726 billion” past the Senate, a knowledgeable GOP aide said. “We will use the Senate number.”

Republican leaders floated the idea of differing figures as a way to wrap up the budget conference before the spring recess commences Friday.

They say it simply allows Congress to move forward with the 13 annual appropriations bills when it returns.

“We have no intent of pulling a fast one,” the aide said. “[But] the least wise idea is to have no budget resolution.”

Indeed Republicans are under tremendous pressure to pass a budget resolution after spending much of last year needling Senate Democrats for not doing so.

Far from feeling that his power may be threatened — the Parliamentarian has given Republicans the green light for their unorthodox procedure — Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) played down the deal’s significance.

“It seems to me a matter of convenience; they just want to advance the ball to another team,” Grassley said.

His counterpart, ranking member Max Baucus (D-Mont.), was not so forgiving.

“It contorts the rules; it contorts the general procedure,” he said. “I find it embarrassing frankly.”

Moderate Republican Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) have said repeatedly that they would not support a tax-cut package totaling more than $350 billion, while conservatives in the House are demanding acceptance a figure closer to President Bush’s proposed $726 billion.

“We have expressed ourselves at all levels,” Snowe said, adding that they may agree to the compromise but will not ultimately vote for a higher tax cut.

“I’m committed to $350 billion,” she said.

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