Bush says he's ready to compromise on tax cuts

Wednesday, April 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush said Wednesday he's ready to compromise on his $1.6 trillion, 10-year year tax cut. ``I'm a practical man. I want to get it done,'' he said.

After his sitting down to his second huddle in as many days with congressional budget negotiators, the president said in an interview with The Associated Press that he recognizes his tax plan will have to be trimmed in order to pass the House and Senate.

``It's going to be less than $1.6 (trillion) and greater than 1.2 and we've got to figure out how to make it work,'' Bush said.

``The definition of reasonable is: who will vote for it at this point in time? We're now down to counting votes.''

As House and Senate negotiators hammer out differences between the budgets each chamber recently passed, Bush urged them to ``prioritize individual rate cuts, across-the-board rate cuts.''

Otherwise, he declined to say how his original tax plan should be trimmed to meet the smaller cost.

``First of all, define the size of the pie and then we can figure out the slices,'' Bush told AP.

A House-Senate dispute over spending threatens to be even tougher to resolve.

Bargainers from the two chambers planned to have their first _ and probably only _ formal meeting Wednesday as they try to craft a near $2 trillion budget for fiscal 2002, which begins Oct. 1. Leaders hope a deal can be pushed through Congress by next week so the Senate can immediately begin working on a tax package, which is Bush's top budgetary priority.

In March, the GOP-controlled House approved a budget echoing Bush's priorities: A $1.6 trillion tax cut, and limiting the growth of many federal programs next year to 4 percent above this year's levels. But on April 6, the Senate _ divided evenly between the two parties _ adopted a budget paring the tax cut to $1.2 trillion, and doubling spending growth to 8.3 percent.

``We want to basically give more tax relief and spend less. The Senate has different priorities,'' House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told reporters Wednesday, adding, ``Probably somewhere in between is where we're going to come out of it.''

Republicans say the tax cut will doubtless be shrunk, with many talking about a $1.4 trillion package, the middle ground between the House and Senate. To do so, the defections of two moderate GOP senators means Republicans will probably have to win support from some Democrats.

``It's a question of seeing what's going to happen on agriculture, on education funding, and national defense,'' said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a prime target for Republicans seeking support for a $1.4 trillion reduction. ``I want to see what's going to happen there before I talk about the tax cut.''

At a White House meeting Tuesday between Bush and GOP congressional leaders, Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., told the president he believed Republicans could push a budget through the Senate with a $1.4 trillion tax cut, Nickles said.

Other Republicans were also discussing the $1.4 trillion figure. One administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the White House wanted at least $1.4 trillion, ``the natural compromise.''

``There can be some compromise on the number of $1.2 trillion,'' said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. ``It can't be, obviously, $1.6 trillion. It's something in between.''

At Tuesday's White House meeting, GOP leaders also battled among themselves over spending, said participants. They said Hastert and other House leaders said the Senate had gone too far in more than doubling Bush's 4 percent spending increases for many programs next year.

In interviews, many House conservatives said they felt more strongly about limiting spending than about the tax cut's exact size.

``If you concede the wasteful spending the Senate passed, you've lost that forever,'' said Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. ``If you don't get absolutely everything on taxes, there's always next year.''

The budget is a nonbinding guide that will be followed by spending and tax bills. Leaders want to push the budget through Congress by next week so the Senate can began work immediately on tax legislation. The House has already passed several tax bills.

The budget is also significant because under congressional rules, the tax cut it contains cannot be killed by a filibuster, or endless procedural delays used by opponents. Filibusters can only be ended with approval of 60 of the 100 senators, which would be difficult in the evenly split Senate.

Anticipating that the budget will likely contain less than $1.6 trillion in tax cuts, GOP leaders are discussing putting additional tax cuts into other bills, such as legislation raising the minimum wage.