Ninety percent of any federal surplus should be held in reserve until a Social Security rescue plan is in place, the House voted Friday, setting the stage for weekend action on an $80 billion tax cut bill.
Republicans pushed through the Social Security bill on a 240-188 vote to blunt Democratic criticism - certain to echo across congressional political campaigns - that the GOP tax cut would amount to a raid on the popular retirement program."The American people expect us to save Social Security, and they need tax relief," said Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "They're both within our reach."
The key test of party unity was a 216-210 vote in which the House rejected a Democratic effort to lock away 100 percent of the surplus until Social Security is safeguarded. Only one Democrat - Rep. Martin Olav Sabo of Minnesota - voted with Republicans to defeat the measure.
The action was a prelude to Saturday's planned vote on the tax cut bill, which would take roughly 10 percent of the projected $1.6 trillion budget surplus over the next decade - leaving 90 percent or about $1.4 trillion for the Social Security reserve. Over five years, the tax cut would cost $80 billion.
The tax measure, which President Clinton has threatened to veto, would provide tax relief for farmers, married couples, working senior citizens, small-business operators, people with modest savings accounts and students saving for private colleges. It also would extend several expiring tax credits sought by big business.
Republicans appeared confident they would have the votes to pass the tax bill but are unlikely to gain enough Democratic defections to reach the two-thirds margin necessary to override a presidential veto. Most Democrats support the specific tax cut proposals but not the use of a surplus that may not materialize to pay for them.
"They're rushing to spend a surplus that doesn't exist," said House Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich.