Strong signals have come from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill over the past two days that congressional members wanted to wrap up a compromise package, expected to fall somewhere between the House-backed $1.6 trillion tax cut and the Senate version of $1.2 trillion.
"We'd like to have floor action completed and the bill sent to the president for his signature by the Memorial Day recess," Grassley said.
Grassley said that the first reconciliation bill must be reported to the full Senate by May 18 after receiving the chairman's mark on May 7, is subjected to a 48-hour review, and settled in for a markup on May 9.
"We're in negotiations over the House and Senate budget resolution, a necessary forerunner to getting to the tax bill. I can't really say when the negotiations will be concluded … Over the weekend, I guess I heard that it would be by Tuesday, and then we will finally have what that final tax relief number is."
On Sunday, O'Neill predicted the bill's passage by June 1, a target date that administration officials say was set by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said congressional leaders set June 1 as a date for the bill to be on the president's desk so that they would have closure before members of Congress leave town on recess.
While the administration would be happy to see the bill passed early, it does not see June 1 as a drop-dead date, Fleischer said.
"It would not be the end of the world," Fleischer said.
Democrats warned that Congress had yet to even pass a budget that would establish broad spending and tax-cut plans before proceeding to an actual tax-cut bill - the size or scope of which has yet to be determined.
"June 1 may be overly ambitious," said Mike Siegel, spokesman for Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.
"There is a lot that will unfold between now and the tax cut. Most importantly, the Finance Committee has to develop a bill that has significant bipartisan support," Siegel said. "It is ambitious, and it could be premature to be discussing a date."
Grassley acknowledged that it appeared the bill was on a fast track.
"That may sound a hurried-up process. On the other hand, I think it's very important that we get this done as soon as we can, not only for the sake of tax relief that taxpayers are entitled to, but also for the effect that it has on enhancing confidence in the economy as we're now in a flat period of economic growth," Grassley said.
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