WASHINGTON – House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search) said Thursday he is willing to seek a deal with the Senate over curbs that chamber has approved on future tax cuts.
Budget bargainers said no agreement would be completed until after lawmakers' spring recess.
"Philosophically we're opposed to limiting tax cuts" with the restrictions the Senate approved last month, Hastert, R-Ill., said in a brief interview. "But we're going to have to do the art of the possible, what's possible with the Senate."
Even so, Hastert drew a hard line for those negotiations, saying the House had not abandoned its opposition to restraining tax cuts. Tax reductions are the core of President Bush's plans for energizing the economy, and the dispute is the major roadblock to finishing a House-Senate compromise on a $2.4 trillion budget for next year.
"We don't want to accept this limitation. And that's what the discussions are about," he said.
Participants in the talks have said privately that if a compromise emerges, it could be a watered-down version of the constraints the Senate approved exempting tax cuts expected to be approved this year. It might also last less than the five years the Senate voted for.
"Now, we're still in negotiation. We haven't done anything yet," Hastert said.
Aides from both chambers said an agreement would not be completed until after Congress' recess, which ends the week of April 19. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles (search), R-Okla., and House budget panel Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, were planning to meet again on April 20, said one aide speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Senate-approved language would require that any future tax cuts or expanded benefits - such as Medicare (search) - be paid for either with tax increases or spending cuts. The strictures, which would last for five years, were fueled by election-season concerns about deficits (search) expected to near $500 billion this year.
Democrats and four moderate Republicans forced the restrictions into the Senate's budget over opposition by the White House and the chamber's GOP leaders.
The House budget had no similar language. In a concession to budget hawks, House leaders have promised a vote by Memorial Day on a bill requiring savings to pay for spending increases, but not for tax cuts.
The White House, GOP leaders and conservatives have been adamant about not constraining future tax reductions. But worried about huge deficits, moderate Republicans in both chambers have been insisting on at least some restraints on tax cuts, raising questions about whether GOP leaders could push a budget through Congress that does not do so.