Robert Novak

After months of Conrad's assurances that his budget contained no tax increases, the Senate adopted, 97 to one, an amendment by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus that decreased estimated revenues by $195 billion. It would save the child tax credit, marriage penalty relief, estate tax decreases and other expiring tax proposals. If the budget "does not raise taxes," asked Rep. Paul Ryan, ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, on May 10, "why has there been a discussion about whether or not to adopt the Baucus amendment?" It survived in the final version of the resolution.

Conrad's insistence has affected the way the budget resolution has been reported. The Associated Press account never mentions tax increases. The Wall Street Journal's headline cautiously refers to a "partial lapse of tax cuts."

Conrad's fellow Democrats in the Senate buy into his euphemisms. Not a single Democratic senator voted against the tax-increasing budget -- not even Nebraska's Ben Nelson, who often departs from the party line and who supported the Bush tax cuts.

But the budget resolution's tax increases sounded a warning signal for the House, which passed it by only 214 to 209. Until now, the new Democratic majority in the House has been solid amid substantial Republican defections. But no Republican member voted for the budget, while 13 Democrats opposed it. Of the defectors, left-wing Rep. Dennis Kucinich voted no because he said the budget would fund President Bush's Iraqi war effort throughout his term.

The other 12 were moderates, including six freshmen who defeated Republicans last year. One freshman was Rep. Harry E. Mitchell of Arizona, who upset Rep. J.D. Hayworth in the heavily Republican Tempe district. "I simply cannot support a budget that allows key tax cuts to expire," said Mitchell, calling for extended capital gains and estate tax cuts. Kent Conrad didn't fool Harry Mitchell.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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