WASHINGTON -- The hours are dwindling for the House and Senate to strike a deal with President Bush on details of the $1.35 trillion, 11-year tax cut in time for the Memorial Day recess.
Negotiators met late into the night Thursday and said they made some progress, but no final compromise was likely until Friday. Key issues included the level of the 39.6 percent top income tax rate, which Bush and the House want to drop to 33 percent and the Senate to 36 percent.
There was also an effort to speed up the effective dates for many of the tax cuts and questions about whether education breaks, such as a $5,000 college tuition deduction, and provisions for lower-income people would remain in the bill.
"I hope it can come together," said Sen. Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican who is a member of the House-Senate conference committee. "I think it can."
Despite the upheaval in the Senate, negotiations on the tax package inched along Thursday as Bush urged lawmakers anew to finish the bill this week.
"We feel we need to go forward with this," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the majority leader who will lose that title because of the decision by Vermont GOP Sen. James Jeffords to become an independent and tip the Senate balance of power toward the Democrats. "This is bigger than who's in charge."
Talks continued throughout the day in a rolling series of meetings in the Capitol, but House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., said late Thursday a final compromise would not occur before Friday.
In hopes of getting closer to a deal, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card joined the evening negotiations. Other key players were Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. John Breaux, D-La.
"We've still got a long, long way to go," said Baucus, ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee. "Sometimes, these things just suddenly fall together."
Bush, speaking in Cleveland, urged lawmakers to complete the bill.
"I call on Congress not to recess for Memorial Day until they have finished the job and passed tax relief for the American people," Bush said.
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