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Moderate Democrats concerned about budget

A number of Senate moderates remained concerned Monday that the fiscal 2002 budget conference report does not adequately stipulate what they agreed to in terms of tax relief over the next decade.

At issue is whether the budget resolution Congress is supposed to vote on this week provides for $1.25 trillion in tax relief to fiscal 2011, with a separate $100 billion in tax relief for fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002 aimed at stimulating the economy from surplus money already on hand.

That is what a number of Democratic moderates such as Sens. John Breaux of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska said they agreed to when the Senate passed the budget last month. But the conference report unveiled last week provided for $1.35 trillion in tax relief over the next 10 years. Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and his staff met with Breaux and Nelson until late last Thursday evening and the Democrats seemed satisfied that the stimulus portion could be more clearly stated. However, even the revised language still seems to fall short of their understanding.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Budget Committee said the committee was only trying to give the Finance panel more flexibility in writing the tax bill when it composed the reconciliation instructions. The fiscal 2001-fiscal 2002 stimulus idea is something on which President Bush, the Senate leadership and Domenici have all signed on, she said.

"That's just standard operating procedure on our part" to give the authorizing committee flexibility, she said, adding, "Certainly it is our intention, it is [Chairman] Domenici's intention and it is the intention of the budget resolution that this be done in the first two years." But a Nelson spokesman said, "The excuses so far are inadequate." Staff level discussions were to be held today to resolve the matter.

According to the weekly whip notice, the House will consider the same-day rule--which allows the House to take up the floor rule for the conference report and conference report itself on the same day--and the rule to recommit the conference report Tuesday, and turn to final passage of the budget conference report Wednesday.

But GOP leadership sources indicated it is still possible the leadership could push to get it done Tuesday night. Due to a series of errors that occured late last Thursday, the conference report was filed missing two key pages, and therefore must be recommitted to the conference committee so the missing pages can be formally added and the report then filed correctly. At that point, any other changes that may be necessary or desirable could be made to the conference report.

Another problem may be that the conference report does not reflect the increased education spending approved by the Senate.

A spokeswoman for Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Jeffords, R-Vt., who battled his leadership to get more money for education, said he "has got deep concerns about the education numbers" and, as a result, is "leaning no" in his vote. The spokesman said Jeffords is also concerned that because the reconciliation instructions for the $1.25 trillion refer only to reducing revenues by that amount over 10 years, it may not be feasible to do things like making the per-child tax credit available to workers who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is scored as an outlay.

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