Sun, May 25, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Cheney breaks tax-cut stalemate

AFP , WASHINGTON

The US Congress has narrowly passed a 10-year, US$350 billion tax cut bill embraced by US President George W. Bush as an economic stimulus but excoriated by some for giving too much to the rich.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who is president of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking ballot on Friday in a 51-50 Senate vote, hours after the measure passed 231-200 in the House of Representatives.

Though the bill is only about half as large as the US$726 billion "jobs and growth" program he originally proposed, Bush declared victory after passage of the bill.

"In passing this jobs and growth plan, Congress has taken a major step in the effort to boost economic growth and create jobs," Bush said.

"A growing economy is an urgent priority for all Americans, and I look forward to signing this bill and to seeing that tax relief is felt in paychecks quickly."

The votes were mainly along party lines in both houses of the Republican-controlled Congress, which scrambled to forge a compromise before adjourning for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

"This bill doesn't go far enough, but it is a strong start," House Speaker Dennis Hastert said.

The bill contains US$320 billion in direct tax cuts, US$20 billion in aid to states and US$9.5 billion in refundable credits for families who don't earn enough to pay income taxes.

The most controversial part of the bill cuts taxes on dividends paid to shareholders and on capital gains to a maximum of 15 percent.

The bill also accelerates planned reductions in income tax rates: current tax rates of 27, 30, 35 and 38.6 percent would drop to 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent, respectively, and some 25 million households would get checks of up to US$400 per child as a tax credit.

The Treasury Department estimated the bill would provide some US$109 billion in tax relief in the 2003 calendar year.

To stay within the US$350 billion limit imposed by the Senate, the bill relies on a controversial "sunset" clause that causes the tax breaks to expire -- even though few expect future lawmakers to allow those taxes to be boosted.

Budget hawks have called this measure gimmickry and complain the massive cuts will cause a record budget deficit to get even bigger.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank focused on budget issues, said lawmakers masked the true cost of the bill.

Under the most likely scenario, the center said, the package "will cost US$810 billion to US$1.06 trillion" over 10 years.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the tax bill "a tragedy," saying it does not create jobs or encourage economic growth.

"This tax cut is the unraveling of fiscal responsibility," Pelosi said. "By promoting his unnecessary, unfair, and fiscally unsound tax cut, President Bush created a tax cutting frenzy among Congressional Republicans. The result is a bill to put our children US$1 trillion in debt."

The final bill also stripped out some tax increases proposed by the Senate, including one that would have effectively increased taxes on Americans living abroad by eliminating an income exclusion of 80,000 per year.

A Time magazine survey taken in the two days ahead of the vote found 50 percent who said the bill would boost the economy but 57 percent said it would benefit the rich more than the middle class.

Economists say the bill should boost economic growth in the second half of this year by about one-half to one percentage point by giving more cash to consumers, who by spending more may induce businesses to expand investment and hiring.

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