WASHINGTON – Congress returns from spring break this week facing a $200 billion disagreement over how much to trim from President Bush's tax cut plan.
The White House, resigned that Congress won't pass Bush's original proposal for $726 billion in cuts over 10 years, is pushing for the $550 billion package passed by the House.
But moderate Republican Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio (search) and Olympia Snowe of Maine (search) blocked more than $350 billion in cuts in the Senate. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, (search) angered House GOP leaders by making a deal to limit the final cut to $350 billion to get the crucial votes from Voinovich and Snowe.
Grassley said Sunday that Republicans are still looking for ways to offset the cost of additional tax cuts, such as closing corporate tax shelters and extending customs fees. But he said it would be difficult to reach $550 billion.
"We've got a divided government, and we have to operate within the realities of a Senate that is divided 51-49," he said on Fox News Sunday (search).
Senate rules make passage of major legislation virtually impossible without 60 votes because of parliamentary delays or a filibuster -- nonstop debate that can be stopped only by three-fifths of the 100 senators.
Bush renewed his campaign for bigger tax cuts in Voinovich's home state during the break, but Voinovich said Sunday that he won't go a penny higher than $350 billion.
"Anybody that knows George Voinovich knows that when I say something I mean it," he said on NBC's Meet the Press.
The Senate was resuming work Monday, the House on Tuesday. The White House has summoned GOP leaders to a meeting Tuesday. Though legislative aides consider the infighting likely to come up, Bush frequently invites leaders to such sessions after congressional breaks to discuss the legislative schedule.
The House and Senate aren't likely to grind to a halt because of the GOP's infighting, although tensions between the chambers remain.
The House plans votes this week on a bill to renew programs for disabled students; a fight could arise over using federal money in private schools. Another House measure would increase U.S. contributions for battling AIDS overseas.
On Tuesday, the Senate is expected to approve the nomination of Jeffrey Sutton (search) of Ohio to become a federal appeals court judge and resume debating the circuit court nomination of Texas judge Priscilla Owen (search). Senators also could debate a program to encourage development of vaccines against pathogens that could be used by terrorists.
During the four weeks until lawmakers begin their Memorial Day break, the GOP will focus on passing new tax cuts.
Lawmakers also will start work on the 13 annual spending bills for 2004. White House budget chief Mitchell Daniels (search), the administration's point man in limiting the size of those measures, plans to decide in a few weeks whether he will leave the administration to run for Indiana governor.