Centrists shield budget

Six Senate Democratic centrists yesterday moved to bolster their party’s budget and shield Democrats’ fiscal plan from GOP attacks with extensions of the Bush administration’s middle-class tax cuts.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) offered the tax-cut amendment, which the Senate approved yesterday evening. Baucus would direct the $132 billion budget surplus Democrats aim to achieve toward several of President Bush’s tax breaks, including a doubled child-tax credit, marriage-penalty relief and lower estate-tax rates.

Baucus’s cosponsors were two colleagues facing reelection next year, Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Mary Landrieu (La.), as well as Evan Bayh (Ind.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.). The plan secures an additional $15 billion in on-budget funds for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which the Finance panel is set to reauthorize this year.

Baucus’s amendment hardly silenced Republicans, who have hammered Democrats all week for initially assuming the Bush tax cuts would expire unless offsets to extend them were found. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a statement finding “the good news … that Democrats admit they have a tax problem here and tried to fix it.”

Baucus acknowledged on the floor that the tax-cut extensions were contingent upon the budget surplus materializing. “It says, ‘Let’s take this surplus and, if we have a surplus, that’s the priorities that it should be used for,’” he said.