WASHINGTON -- Senior Democrats attacked a proposed Senate compromise on tax cuts Tuesday as too costly, tilted toward the wealthy and an unwise move in increasingly uncertain economic times.
"This bill flunks every test," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., as the Senate Finance Committee opened debate on the 11-year, $1.35 trillion tax relief package.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the bill would cost as much as $4 trillion in the decade after it is fully in effect, jeopardizing Medicare and Social Security just as the baby boom generation begins retiring. One-third of the tax cuts, he added, would benefit just 1 percent of taxpayers.
"I find it very difficult to accept and about impossible to explain," Daschle said.
But Republicans, backed by moderate Democrats such as Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, defended the plan as a measured refund of some of the government's huge projected budget surpluses. They said because half of taxpayers are responsible for 96 percent of income taxes, the wealthy benefit more by definition.
"There's one form of bigotry that is still acceptable in America -- that's the bigotry against the successful," said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas.
The bill would cut income taxes across the board, creating a new 10 percent rate for a portion of every taxpayer's income, retroactive to Jan. 1. Among other things, the measure would gradually repeal the estate tax, ease the marriage penalty paid by millions of two-income couples, double the $500 child credit and expand tax-favored contribution limits for IRAs and 401(k)s.
Finance Committee members proposed 171 amendments, many of which will be taken up beginning later in the day.
The measure could reach the Senate floor as early as this week. Republican leaders hope to quickly resolve differences with the House and get the bill to the president's desk before Memorial Day.
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