WASHINGTON -- A 10-year, $248 billion income tax cut for millions of married couples faces an uphill battle in the Senate as Republicans accuse Democrats of using irrelevant issues to block consideration of the legislation.
Unless the impasse is solved, Republicans will have to muster 60 Senate votes today to end delaying tactics. That would require five Democrats to side with the GOP, which appeared highly unlikely.
''This is an attempt to throttle this legislation here in the Senate,'' said Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga.
But Democrats insisted on their right to offer 10 amendments to the tax bill, including measures as diverse as a Medicare prescription drug benefit, a change in the tax treatment of idled farmland and a tax credit for college tuition.
Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the amendments demonstrated Democratic priorities on how to use the projected budget surplus, part of which would be used to pay for the GOP's tax cut.
''There are other ways to spend that money,'' said Daschle. ''In our view, all of these issues are relevant to the debate on the marriage penalty.''
The GOP bill would gradually reduce income taxes for almost all married couples, including the 25 million who now pay higher ''marriage penalty'' taxes than they would if single. More than half the tax cuts would go to millions of couples who now get a marriage bonus under the tax code, generally those in which one spouse earns most of the income.
The House earlier this year passed a smaller marriage tax cut totaling $182 billion over 10 years. President Clinton, who also proposed a more modest marriage penalty relief bill, has threatened to veto both GOP bills, saying they would consume too much of the projected budget surplus.
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