After long debate, Senate approves tax cut
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate approved an 11-year, $1.35 trillion tax-cut bill Wednesday, ending a long debate in which the legislation's progress was slowed to a crawl by dozens of Democratic amendments.
Passage of the bill came Wednesday afternoon, several days after supporters originally predicted it would clear the chamber. But instead of a quick vote, the Senate became bogged down in several days of late-night sessions as Democrats tossed up amendment after amendment and insisted on numerous roll call votes.
Republican leaders had hoped to get the bill to a final vote Monday night, but after five hours of roll-call votes on 16 amendments, it became clear Democrats were in no mood to cooperate. Another day of debating Tuesday also ended late in the night without a final vote.
Democrats forced the Senate time and again, under rules of the chamber, to consider the requirements of the Budget Act whenever one of their amendments came up for a vote.
The Budget Act lays out the framework and timing for consideration of a federal budget by Congress. The Senate burned Tuesday afternoon on votes that would have waived Budget Act requirements on the Democratic proposals, making them applicable to the tax bill.
A coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats in favor of the legislation united to defeat the multiple waiver votes, but Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said victory was not the point.
"We feel very strongly that this wasn't the approach in which we would have chosen to debate this incredibly important issue," Daschle said. "We are having to deal with very unfair and very unfortunate circumstances, so we will present our case through the amendment process."
"We don't intend to apologize to anyone for this relentless fight," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota. "This bill shortchanges working families in this country. This fiscal policy is in many ways not only unfair, but unwise."
Republicans, who assumed they would have been able to move along to other legislative business by midday Tuesday, were not happy with the actions of the minority.
"They are trying to stall, stall, stall," said an agitated Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the tax bill's chief sponsor. "We need to get this bill passed."
Bush urges haste
The White House expressed extreme displeasure with the turn of events in the Senate. President Bush had urged Congress to get him a finished bill by Memorial Day -- next Monday.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the president is "very concerned" about the bill because it keeps "getting slowed down, bogged down and delayed."
"The president calls on the Congress to take action in the Senate today, to take action now so that tax relief can be enacted into law," Fleischer said.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, acknowledged the rules of the Senate would allow the Democrats to keep up the tactic for as long as they wanted, but as the chamber's chief scheduler he was not going to make their lives easy if they insisted on keeping it up.
"We're going to get it through the Senate as soon as we can. We're going to make our dead-level best to get a conference agreement," he said.
Lott said legislators would continue to work into the evening and that dinner had been canceled because "every time you take a break these amendments marry and multiply."
Once the Senate bill does pass, talks would then immediately begin with the House on the final conference version of the bill.
Conservative Republicans and the White House hope to gain deeper, accelerated cuts in conference with the House, assuming the bill gets there. They called the Senate tax bill timid. Most Democrats called it irresponsible.
To increase their odds of getting the tax bill through the Senate, the sponsors scaled back some of Bush's tax-cut priorities, such as the across-the-board rate cut and elimination of the marriage penalty, and added provisions appealing to moderate Democrats, including education tax credits and pension reform.
On rate cuts, the bill would reduce the highest tax rate from 39.6 percent to 36 percent by 2007 -- a more modest cut that takes place in phases at a slower pace than what Bush proposed and conservatives advocate.
In addition to lowering the top tax rate, the legislation drops three others: 36 percent to 33 percent, 31 percent to 28 percent and 28 percent to 25 percent.
CNN's Ian Christopher McCaleb and Dana Bash contributed to this report.
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