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Senate GOP leaders reach out to Dems on budget

Senate Republican leaders appear to be gaining ground in their efforts to reach out to centrist Democrats who could provide decisive votes for President Bush's fiscal 2002 budget plan.

"They're just talking to everybody," said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. "I've made it very clear what my concerns are."

Nelson said he wants the FY02 budget resolution to have some sort of "circuit breaker" mechanism tying tax cuts to the economy, saying it should allow Congress to vote on anything above the first $1 trillion in tax cuts. The budget will provide for $1.6 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years.

Nelson also said he has voiced concerns to Republicans on the spending side. "I'd want to make sure that agriculture is well taken care of," he said. "I just want to make sure that whatever is done in the area of a tax cut doesn't end up cutting agriculture... and military spending" and other priorities.

Nelson said he was also seeking assurances "that we'll pay down the debt, Social Security, and there'll be a prescription drug part of Medicare."

Republicans are targeting Democrats by necessity, amid signs that moderate Republicans continue to voice doubts about the budget plan and its $1.6 trillion tax cut.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., has told colleagues that the tax cut is too large and he does not think the budget should be passed on a party line vote. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman James Jeffords, R-Vt., has also been holding out, and said Tuesday he wants money--perhaps as much as $110 billion--for individual development accounts, subsidized savings accounts designed to help low-income individuals accumulate capital.

Republicans would need to get at least 50 votes for their plan in order to have Vice President Cheney cast a tie-breaking vote.

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