The Senate rejected calls from both parties’ presidential candidates to take an election-year break from pork-barrel spending as a Democratic-run Congress passed budget plans that would torpedo hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts won by President George W Bush.
John McCain, the Republican nominee-to-be, couldn’t attract even a majority of Senate Republicans to vote with him Thursday night behind the earmark moratorium touted by party conservatives as a way to restore credibility with voters.
It failed on a 71-29 vote. Only three Democrats joined with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama in voting for it.
The underlying House and Senate Democratic federal budget plans for 2009, though nonbinding, drew blasts from Republicans for allowing some or all of Bush’s tax cuts to die in about three years.
The House passed its $3 trillion (Dh11.01 trillion) budget plan by a 212-207 vote. It would provide generous increases to domestic programs but bring the government’s ledger back into the black, but only by letting all of Bush’s tax cuts expire at the end of 2010 as scheduled.
The Senate passed a companion plan by a 51-44 vote. It endorsed extending $340 billion (Dh1.25 billion) of Bush’s tax cuts but balked at continuing all of them. The competing versions head to talks in which the House is all but certain to accept the Senate’s position endorsing tax cuts for the working poor, married couples, people with children and for those inheriting large estates.
All three major presidential candidates interrupted their campaigns for a Senate vote-o-rama that began before noon and included more than 40 roll calls.
Budget plans are nonbinding, but they highlight the difficult choices on taxes and spending facing the next president and Congress. Binding votes on the expiring Bush tax cuts will be left to his successor and the Congress that’s elected in November.
The practice of inserting “earmarked” spending into legislation is seen by lawmakers in both parties a birthright power of the purse awarded to Congress by the Founding Fathers.
Earmarks have exploded in number and cost in recent years, accompanied by charges of abuse and public outrage over egregious examples like the proposed “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska, which would have cost more than $200 million (Dh734 million) to serve an island with a population of about 50.
McCain, who has battled with members of both parties over them for years, blamed pork barrel spending for the Republicans losing control of Congress in the 2006 elections.
“This may be the last bastion in America where they don’t get it,” he told reporters after Thursday night’s vote. “Americans are sick and tired of the way we do business in Washington. As president, I promise the American people ... the first earmarked, pork-barrel bill that comes across my desk, I’ll veto it.”
However, on taxes, McCain voted to extend the full roster of Bush’s tax cuts, which he opposed seven years ago as being tilted in favor of the wealthy.
Democratic rivals Clinton and Obama both voted to extend only some of Bush’s tax cuts while allowing cuts in income tax rates and investments expire. They joined other Democrats in a 52-47 vote against extending $376 billion (Dh1.38 billion) of them.
Republicans hope to use the votes as fodder for the heated presidential campaign and for congressional races. “Democrats are quietly but very assuredly paving the way for a massive, economy-choking, tax increase,” said Rep Jim McCrery.
Democrats said the plans would reverse years of deficits that have piled up during Bush’s tenure. They said he squandered trillions of dollars in projected surpluses that he inherited in 2001.
“The Democratic budget continues to move our nation in a new direction and to clean up the fiscal train wreck caused by failed Republican economic policies over the last seven years,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Democrats argued that when the time comes, they will renew tax cuts aimed at the middle class by closing billions of dollars worth of corporate and other tax loopholes. They also say billions more can be raised by cracking down on tax cheats.
In the House, Democrats defeated a Republican plan that would have extended Bush’s reductions. The Republican plan also would have eliminated the alternative minimum tax, which was originally designed years ago to make sure rich people pay at least some tax but now threatens more than 20 million additional taxpayers with increases averaging $2,000 (Dh7,340). (AP)
US Senate approves federal budget that would torpedo Bush tax cuts