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Budget takes center stage

WASHINGTON/(United Press International via COMTEX) -- When they weren't talking presidential pardons on Sunday's television talk shows, government leaders faced taxing issues -- and the-as-yet-unseen budget, too.

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil, appearing on "Fox News Sunday" and NBC's "Meet The Press," touted the benefits of President George W. Bush's proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut and downplayed concerns raised by Democrats.

"We are changing the status of the tax system so there's no longer so much money coming into Washington," O'Neil said on Fox. "With the economy in a slowdown, we think it's timely getting money in hands of people."

But along with opposing Democrats, the president faces a tough time with some Republicans on both ends of the political spectrum. Some Republicans want an even bigger tax cut while Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Friday he wants a 6 percent spending increase instead of the 4 percent spending hike proposed by Bush.

O'Neil said Domenici's view may be "appropriate to what's happened in the past. ... We ought to be able to live with 4 percent."

O'Neil also said the plan would take 6 million people at lower income levels off the tax rolls completely as rates and taxable income levels are lowered.

On "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., floated the possibility of a tax rebate rather than getting the country locked into a tax cut over 10 years.

"I'm not against a tax cut," Byrd said. But Byrd said he was concerned about basing a tax change on a 10-year projection of the economy and projected surpluses.

"I'm concerned ... surpluses might not materialize," Byrd said. "Once we pass the bill, the money goes out."

"It's so important to our country that we ought to stop, think, and listen," Byrd said. Vice President Dick Cheney supported O'Neil's view when he appeared on "Meet The Press."

Cheney, on CBS' "Face The Nation," stressed that the cuts are to be phased in and, for some, retroactive to Jan. 1. He said he expected the plan to fare well and that he expected there would be a "meeting of the minds" before it's all over.

He also said Bush would like to hold the line on a 4 percent spending increase, and said last year Congress boosted spending by 8 percent in wake of news of government surpluses.

Later, on "Meet The Press," Cheney said: "By the time we get to passage, I bet we're going to have a lot of Democrats with us. ... In The end, I think we're going to get most of what the president requested."

But the administration might not have the backing of Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, which controls tax legislation. Rangel, on CNN's "Late Edition," said a 10-year tax cut was improper because "It's impossible for us to forecast what's going to happen 10 years from now ... and we don't even have a budget yet."

"President Bush was a candy man," Rangel said of Bush's speech to a joint session of Congress last week. "If you give away as much as Bush did ... who could be against it except the economists?"

The president hit the airwaves Saturday to persuade Americans to support his tax cut proposal saying there will be plenty left over for the tax cut after all the goals of his $1.96 trillion budget for fiscal 2002 are completed, reported the New York Post Sunday.

"I approach our budget as American families do," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

"First, we set priorities and fund them. A surplus, after all, is an overcharge of American taxpayers," said Bush, pitching his tax cut in his first speech to Congress on Tuesday. "And on your behalf, I am asking for a refund."

(c) 2001 by United Press International

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