WASHINGTON – House and Senate Republicans, at President Bush's bidding, have started working to extend tax cuts (search) for wage earners, married couples and parents, a summertime reminder to voters of tax breaks passed on the president's watch.
Bush wants the package to be completed next week, before the Republican and Democratic parties hold their presidential nominating conventions, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.
"The president wants to get this done," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., said he didn't know whether the bill can be assembled and passed in time to meet the president's target, however.
At the end of the year, three tax cuts would fully or partially disappear unless Congress acts. They reduced taxes on the first $7,000 in wages, increased the child tax credit to $1,000 and cut taxes for some married couples who now pay more than they would if they were not married.
House and Senate aides said the bill would not make the tax cuts permanent.
The bill probably also would include a fourth change, passed in the House this year and effective only for a year, that prevents the alternative minimum tax from creeping closer to the middle class. That is a levy created to prevent wealthy individuals from dodging taxes.
Republicans have not yet decided how long to continue the expiring tax cuts. A five-year extension could cost roughly $120 billion.
That price may be too high for some Democrats.
"Our position is it should be paid for, period," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Many moderate Republicans have agreed with Democrats on that point and insisted that Congress not add to the deficit (search) with new tax cuts.
Some of those Republicans said Tuesday they could overlook the cost of preserving these popular tax cuts.
"I've always supported them," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "High income tax cuts? No."
"In my state we need them," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
To move the package quickly, Republican leaders plan to pick up an old tax bill that passed last year and languished in negotiations between the House and Senate. The revised version would be sent to the House and Senate for a final vote.
That process means the bill would bypass normal procedures that see bills debated and amended in the House and Senate.
The plan is not popular with Democrats.
"It's not a good idea," said Baucus. He predicted that the maneuver would cause more ill will between Republicans and Democrats and hamper negotiations on other tax legislation.