By MALIA RULON, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. George Voinovich said Thursday he was relieved that the debate was winding down in Congress over the size of a federal tax cut package. With his support, a bill to reduce taxes and spur the economy for $350 billion was assured approval this week.
The Ohio Republican has been at odds with the Bush administration since he signed a letter more than two months ago that committed him to supporting a tax cut package that did not exceed $350 billion, unless corresponding spending reductions were made.
Since then, Voinovich (pictured, above) has been personally lobbied by President Bush and other White House officials both in Washington and in Ohio to back a larger tax cut. The president had first asked for a tax cut package of $726 billion but the House reduced it to about $550 billion.
"It makes me feel very, very relieved and I'm glad that we can move forward," Voinovich said Thursday as he announced support for the final tax cut bill. "I hope the president signs it as quickly as possible."
The scaled-back bill would cut taxes by $330 billion for stockholders, individual taxpayers, couples and businesses, and provide another $20 billion for financially strapped states, a provision Bush did not seek.
Voinovich, who's known in Ohio for his frugality, said he's pleased with the final bill because it gives Americans a "good stimulus package for a reasonable price."
Voinovich spent about 25 minutes Wednesday afternoon meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney in the private hideaway office of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., to work out the final details of the package.
Earlier in the week, GOP leaders were touting a $400 billion package that would cut taxes by $350 billion and cost another $50 billion for state aid and child tax credits.
"I said, 'Oh no, it's got to be within the 350 (billion dollars)," Voinovich said, citing concerns for the federal budget deficit. "That was pretty darn clear that I never, ever agreed to do anything outside of the 350."
To squeeze the tax reductions down to $330 billion, however, Republicans have been accused of relying on budget gimmickry. Many of the cuts are scheduled to expire after a few years, despite the overwhelming likelihood that lawmakers never would let that happen.
"It's very disappointing that he fell for this ruse," said Columbus city Councilwoman Charleta Tavares, a Democrat.
Tavares spoke during a protest staged by the Fair Taxes For All Coalition. The group spent Wednesday and Thursday driving a red truck filled with 12 red barrels from Cleveland to Columbus and Cincinnati in protest of the tax cut bill. Each barrel was labeled "budget red ink."
Voinovich disagreed that the bill uses gimmicks, saying it's better to have the tax cuts end so that lawmakers can decide whether they are helping enough to stimulate the economy.