WASHINGTON Republicans pushed a final 2002 budget through theHouse today, a first step toward enacting the big tax cuts andspending limits favored by President Bush.
The $1.95 trillion measure was approved by a near party-line 221-207 vote that underlined the GOP's desire to deliver a crucialvictory to the president just four months into his term.
The Senate also began debating the measure, and passage in theevenly divided chamber seemed assured as Republicans and White Houseofficials said they would get a crucial handful of votes frommoderate Senate Democrats.
The budget calls for a $1.35 trillion, 11-year tax cut and 4percent growth-half of this year's increase-for many federalprograms. Bush long had sought a 10-year, $1.6 trillion taxreduction, but accepted the smaller package as the price for ensuringsupport from moderate Senate Democrats.
'Let's recognize where those tax dollars come from,' said Rep. JimNussle (R-Iowa), who chairs the House Budget Committee. 'And let'stake the opportunity to provide tax relief for the American people.'
Details of the tax cut and spending will be worked out insubsequent bills.
But Democrats said the tax cut is far too large and too weightedtoward the rich, while taking money needed for schools, creating newprescription drug subsidies and other domestic needs.
'This budget is a farce, and it's a fraud,' said House MinorityLeader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.). 'And at the end, America deservesbetter than that.'
Despite overwhelming Democratic opposition, a group of centristDemocrats was poised to supply the pivotal votes needed in theSenate.
Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), a leader of those moderates, expects thepackage to pass Thursday.
The Democratic votes were needed because a pair of maverickRepublicans-Senators James Jeffords of Vermont and Lincoln Chafee ofRhode Island-were balking at supporting the budget because they saidthe tax cut was too large and its allowance for education was toosmall.
Breaux's group includes 14 Democrats who voted for an earlierSenate version of the budget that had a slightly smaller tax cut. Oneother Democrat-Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia-has already said he willvote for the GOP fiscal plan.
The budget calls for reducing the publicly held national debt by$2.4 trillion over the coming decade-the most that Republicans say isfeasible. Democrats say the GOP is skimping on debt reduction toreserve money for their tax cut.
In addition, the budget would set aside extra money for defense,schools, farmers, health insurance for the poor and prescription drugcoverage.
Overall, it would allow 4 percent more money than this year forall federal programs except automatically paid benefits such asSocial Security. That one-third of the budget would grow from $635billion this year to $661 billion next year-the same amount Bushrequested.