Senate resolves disputes, prepares to end session

Vote on corporate tax bill, 2 spending bills set today

October 11, 2004|By Richard Simon | Richard Simon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The Senate moved yesterday toward approval of a sweeping corporate tax overhaul - one of a series of measures with broad appeal to key constituencies that lawmakers are expected to pass before wrapping up their pre-election session this week.

During an unusual Sunday session, the bill cleared a procedural hurdle when the Senate voted 66-14 to limit debate, paving the way for final passage today of the measure, which would provide almost $136 billion in tax breaks for businesses. The bill includes a buyout for tobacco growers to end a Depression-era price support system.

Tensions in the chamber were heightened when senators - angry about measures they sponsored that were stripped out of the final bill -- employed delaying tactics that threatened to keep the Senate from adjourning today and prevent senators up for re-election from hitting the campaign trail.

But by the end of the day, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who had threatened to keep the Senate in session until Thursday because of a measure she sponsored that was removed from the bill, struck a deal with Senate leaders that would allow the Senate to complete its work on the tax bill and two spending bills.

Landrieu, who spent all day on the Senate floor and vowed to "stay here morning, noon and night," had been upset that the bill failed to include a measure she had sponsored to give a tax credit to employers who make up for the lost pay of deployed National Guard and Reserve members. It had been included in an earlier Senate version of the bill but was dropped during negotiations with the House on a final bill.

Under Senate rules, amendments cannot be added to legislation once it has been approved by a conference committee. But Senate leaders agreed yesterday to amend another bill to include Landrieu's proposal and send it back to the House.

The delay in adjournment had led Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, to argue that "what is going on in the United States Senate is political demagoguery at the highest levels."

The fact that the Senate was in session at all on a Sunday provoked the chamber's senior senator, West Virginia Democrat Robert C. Byrd, to chastise his colleagues, complete with biblical references.

"If the ox or the ass were in the pit, as the Bible says, then pull him out if it is on the Sabbath," Byrd said. "But the ox is not in the ditch. ... We're not here because of some dire emergency that threatens the lives of the American people."

The legislation under consideration was drafted in response to punitive tariffs - now at 12 percent, and increasing by one percentage point each month - imposed by the European Union on 1,600 U.S. products after the World Trade Organization ruled that tax breaks for those products amounted to illegal trade subsidies.

The 650-page bill would repeal those tax breaks and replace them with others that would stand up to WTO scrutiny, including a provision that would effectively cut three percentage points off the top corporate tax rate on manufacturers, hard hit by job losses. The new rate under the legislation would be 32 percent.

But since it was one of the last significant pieces of legislation to move through Congress this session, it also became a magnet for a number of stalled measures

The House approved the corporate tax overhaul last week, and its members headed home Saturday for the fall campaign.

In addition to passing the tax bill, the Senate is moving to wrap up its pre-election session this week with the expected approval of legislation to provide $11.6 billion in disaster aid to hurricane victims - much of it going to Florida, a battleground state in the presidential race - and to give $2.9 billion to drought-stricken farmers, including those in South Dakota, where Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle is facing a tough re-election challenge.

Yesterday's vote to limit debate on the corporate tax bill came after a group of senators expressed their anger that the measure includes the $10-billion buyout of tobacco growers but does not give the government new authority to regulate the sale, distribution and advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The tobacco buyout is popular in tobacco-growing Southern states, especially North Carolina, home of a tight Senate race that could prove pivotal to control of the Senate.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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