Skip to comments.Getting to Sixty: Taxes in the New Senate
Posted on 11/07/2002 5:55:45 PM PST by rwfromkansas
Getting to Sixty: Taxes in the new Senate.
The new Senate will be more definitively Republican than the one that existed for a few months in 2001, and thus on paper Republicans may seem to be in a stronger position than at any time since the early Eisenhower administration (the last time they had this many senators, a House majority, and the presidency). But that doesn't mean it will be easy to enact the Republicans' agenda even on the items that President Bush campaigned most insistently this fall.
Republican candidates were reasonably effective in advocating that Bush's 2001 tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the decade, be made permanent. But making them permanent will take more than 51 votes in the Senate. It will take 60. That's because current budget rules preclude any tax cut that lasts longer than the period of a budget resolution. That's why the Bush tax cut had to be time-limited in the first place. (Under the rules, permanent tax hikes don't have to pass such a high bar.)
Pete Domenici, who will be the Senate Budget Committee chairman, prefers budget resolutions in the five-year range. Theoretically, however, says a Republican Senate aide, the Congress could pass a budget, and thus a tax cut, for 20 years or 200 years. ("But in that case, Democrats would be able to say that the tax cut would cost $98 trillion.")
One tax cut that might get 60 votes in the new Senate is the proposal to make the repeal of the estate tax permanent a cause championed by Chris Cox in the House and Jon Kyl in the Senate. The House passed that proposal this year. In the Senate, it got 54 votes. Two other supporters of repeal in the Senate missed the vote, making for 56 supporters in total. (It would have been 57 if John McCain hadn't switched sides on the issue.)
Mark Pryor, the new Democratic senator from Arkansas, says on his campaign website that he supports permanent repeal, so his victory doesn't reduce that total. Max Cleland, the Georgia Democrat, supported permanent repeal, too, so his defeat by a Republican doesn't add to the total. Jim Talent and Norm Coleman, however, represent two additional votes for repeal. Tim Johnson, the South Dakota Democrat, has voted on both sides of the issue. So there are now 58 hard votes for repeal.
Can Republicans win a few more votes from Democrats perhaps those up for reelection in farm states in 2004? Tom Daschle can presumably be ruled out.
A SAFE PREDICTION
President Bush has so far vetoed no bills, partly because his advisers did not see how Republican could win a political fight over a veto when the legislation in question would have had to pass the Republican House. It seems very likely that Republicans will continue to hold the Senate and House for the rest of his term, and thus that President Bush will not veto any legislation during this term.
The last president to issue no vetoes was James Garfield, but he lasted only six months in office before being assassinated. There were no vetoes during the Fillmore, Taylor, or William Henry Harrison administrations, either. Van Buren had one pocket veto. The last president to serve a full term without issuing any vetoes was John Quincy Adams, who was also the last president's son to serve in the office.
My understanding is that Senate budget rules provide for a point of order that allows any Senator to prevent consideration of legislation that would cut taxes below the revenue floors in the most recent budget resolution. This point of order may only be waived by a 3/5 supermajority. This is why the tax cuts could not be made permanent in the first place.
These rules were renewed on October 16 for six months. I don't know what the likelihood is that they will be renewed again in April.