TAX CUTS: Senate Passes Sweeping $792B Measure
The Senate Friday followed the lead of the House and approved a $792 billion, 10-year tax cut that would provide deductions for the self-employed to buy health insurance and for long term care insurance, the New York Times reports. The move sets the stage for a "politically charged showdown with President Clinton," who has already vowed to veto the House and Senate bills on the basis that they ignore Medicare and Social Security. The 57 to 43 vote saw four Democrats break rank and join the Republicans; two Republicans voted with the Democrats against the measure (Stevenson, 7/31). The House and Senate versions both draw on projected surpluses to finance the tax breaks, "but the two plans differ significantly in their details," the Washington Post reports. Among other differences, the Senate bill would allocate less to income tax breaks and channel more toward child care, health insurance and long term care (Pianin/Morgan, 7/31). Before voting, the chamber defeated an amendment that would have ensured funds for Social Security and Medicare. CongressDaily reports that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) met with House Ways and Means Chair Bill Archer (R-TX) and Senate Finance Committee Chair William Roth (R-DE) over the weekend to begin hammering out a compromise bill, and "leaders confidently predicted both chambers will approve the conference report by the end of next week." For their part, Senate Democrats have refused to budge from a $300 billion tax relief plan. In a letter sent to Clinton Friday, they urged him to "veto any bill that does not allocate one third of the on-budget surplus to shore up Medicare" (Norton, CongressDaily, 7/30). Clinton issued his own statement over the weekend, saying, "I will not sign a tax plan that shortchanges our seniors and our young people. I will not sign a plan that signs away our future" (New York Times, 7/31).
Sunday's Washington Post reported that some members of Congress, however, "seem optimistic about the prospects of a 'Grand Compromise,' an overarching budget deal that would include tax cuts, a Medicare prescription drug benefit, some debt reduction and a spending blueprint for next year" (Grunwald/Dewar, 8/1).
Vice President Gore issued his own tax cut proposal Friday, outlining a smaller package of tax breaks to counter the sweeping Republican-backed plan. In introducing his plan, Gore "repeated the administration's mantra that the tax cuts would eat up the surplus and endanger Social Security and Medicare" (Lambro, Washington Times, 7/31). Gore's list of breaks, targeted to low- and middle-income Americans, would allow tax deductions or credits for medical expenses, nursing home costs and corporate research and development, among others. He said, "Proponents of the Republican tax scheme will tell us: 'It's your money and you should have it back. It is our money. But it is also our Social Security. It is our Medicare" (Rosenbaum, New York Times, 8/1).
The rhetoric surrounding Medicare and the tax debate is "about issue positioning for the next election, not care," said syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. Writing in yesterday's Washington Times, Thomas takes issue with President Clinton for bringing women into the tax cut debate last week, arguing that since women outlive men, they will suffer more as a result of broad tax cuts that endanger Medicare. "In a shameless attempt to persuade those soccer moms to submit to him one more time, the president said of Medicare that 'women especially need it.'" Arguing that "pouring good money after bad isn't going to do it," Thomas says: "No one will ever care for you more than you. ... Republicans are trying to make this case, but they're being drowned out by the media and by a president who not only doesn't respect women he pretends to care for but also has no respect for the rest of us, either. If he did, he wouldn't lie so much, not only about Medicare and taxes, but about anything else" (8/1).