GOP Seeking 3rd-Largest Tax Cut Ever

AP Tax Writer

WASHINGTON – Republican tax writers plan to send President Bush an economic stimulus package just over half the size of the one he wanted, completing the $400 billion tax cut and spending bill before Memorial Day.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said Tuesday that negotiators agreed to a “broad outline” that will cut taxes $350 billion. “I think we can do a package that will actually end up being the third-largest tax cut in the history of the country,” he said.

“The House will be back with another one or two packages, probably this summer, and give the Senate more opportunities to do more.”

Republican moderates in the Senate, worried about record budget deficits, blocked the White House from winning the $726 billion tax cut that the administration offered as the best recipe for economic growth.

Instead, GOP leaders and tax writers decided in a meeting with Bush on Monday to assemble a bill that cuts taxes $350 billion over the coming decade and spends roughly an additional $50 billion on state aid and child tax credits, said a congressional official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, had been among those pressing for a smaller tax cut. Spokesman Scott Milburn said his vote will be an “easy no” if the cost of the package — in taxes or spending — exceeds $350 billion.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush held the meeting “to move the ball forward” in resolving House and Senate differences and believed that progress was being made. Fleischer said Bush still expects Congress to finish work on the tax-cut package this week.

Negotiators have until Friday to work out details before lawmakers leave for a weeklong Memorial Day recess.

The plan combines House and Senate ideas for cutting taxes on investment income by temporarily suspending taxes on dividends and lowering taxes on capital gains. Both ideas respond to the president’s request that Congress eliminate levies on dividends paid out of already taxed corporate earnings.

The Senate voted to halve dividend taxes this year and suspend them in 2004, 2005 and 2006. The House opted to cut the top rate on dividends and capital gains to 15 percent for most taxpayers and 5 percent for those in the lowest income brackets.

Merging the two approaches eliminates one of the biggest hurdles to compromise. The House and Senate have generally agreed on most other parts of the bill, which cuts income tax rates and lower taxes for married couples and small businesses.

The proposed compromise also drops a $35 billion tax increase on Americans working abroad that caused an outcry among business leaders and many Republicans. “I do not believe this Congress should raise taxes on some individuals and businesses in order to provide tax relief to others,” Sen. George Allen, R-Va., wrote Monday to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

The compromise under discussion gives fiscally stressed state and local governments $20 billion over 18 months for Medicaid and other needs. And it makes nearly $30 billion available to send refund checks to taxpayers who would qualify for a $1,000 child credit.

Hovering budget deficits prompted the Senate to halve the president’s tax cut during debate last month over the nation’s $2.2 trillion budget. The Senate passed a $350 billion tax cut last week by a narrow margin, with a few Democrats giving Republicans the winning edge. The House drafted its own larger bill, cutting taxes $550 billion over a decade.

Congress will finish the tax bill while also hurrying to add nearly $1 trillion to the nation’s debt limit before the Treasury runs out of borrowing authority.