Budget: It's a Deal

Two weeks after he and others initially announced a budget deal, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Thursday night that the final details on the accord had been worked out, a move that will allow the House Budget Committee to mark up its budget resolution today. The Senate panel will mark up its version Monday.

"Yes, we have an agreement," Lott told reporters. "We're not going to go through it again. We're going to go to the Budget Committee." Lott said that White House staff and GOP staff were reviewing the final language and "scrubbing" the numbers. He said the deal will result in a budget surplus of about $1 billion in 2002.

As part of the deal, Lott and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., signed a tax cut letter to President Clinton outlining the general parameters of the tax cut proposal, including capital gains tax reduction, estate tax relief, the $500 per child tax credit, and expansion of individual retirement accounts. It also commits the leadership to include tax relief of "roughly $35 billion" for postsecondary education costs and states that the bill might include other tax proposals.

"In this context, it should be noted that the tax-writing committees will be required to balance the interests and desires of many parties in crafting tax legislation within the context of the net reduction goals which have been adopted, while at the same time protecting the interests of taxpayers generally," the letter said.

Lott and others said the markup schedule will still allow the House and Senate to complete action on the budget resolution before the Memorial Day recess.

"There's no question we can," Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said, adding that if it is a bipartisan agreement, the markup and conference committee meetings should proceed quickly.

Lott's announcement came after a day-long meeting in Gingrich's office, a session that caused postponement of a budget markup several times Thursday.

Republicans said the major problem was that the White House was trying to change some things in the addendum that will be attached to the deal.

"They were continuing to try to get us to put some things in there that weren't in there," Lott told reporters.

Domenici said the White House version did not reflect what Republicans thought might be in the accord.

Senate Budget ranking member Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said both Democrats and Republicans had different views on what was agreed upon in the budget deal, and found discrepancies between what they thought was agreed upon and what was in draft versions of the addendum.

He said Republican congressional leaders and White House officials needed additional meetings to hammer out the exact wording of the document, saying that "slippage" involved what either side understood was in the agreement.

Lott said he and Minority Leader Daschle would sign the agreement.

The remaining question is whether House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, who has reserved judgment on the accord, would sign it.

Gephardt was being briefed on the plan late Thursday.

Lott said negotiators had settled a potential problem over reconciliation bills.

Republicans had expressed concern that if one reconciliation bill reformed entitlement programs and the other provided a tax cut, the tax bill would be subject to the so-called Byrd Rule, which allows a point of order to be raised against reconciliation legislation if it increases the deficit.

Lott said the negotiators had reached agreement on "some language" that would result in the Byrd Rule not applying to the tax bill.

Settling that issue will allow Congress to consider two reconciliation bills.

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