Robert Novak

But the Internal Revenue Service announced it would take 10 weeks to readjust its computers to account for the patched AMT, affecting its entire refund system. One $90,000-a-year Senate staffer complained he would not be getting his tax refunds, and the word spread among his colleagues (who comprise an unregistered, potent lobbyist bloc). Republican lawmakers pounded on the Democrats for inflicting pain on ordinary taxpayers. Prominent Democratic senators urged Reid to get something done.

Consequently, with senators prepared to leave Washington the next day, Reid made a surprise announcement last Thursday. The Senate would take up the AMT patch Friday morning instead of waiting for December. All signs indicated that Reid was serious about taking action.

Grave philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats prevented passage. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed permitting Republicans to offer four floor amendments to the bill. Reid did not want to subject his Democrats to voting against tax cuts, including repeal of the estate tax. So the two party leaders mutually refused to grant the unanimous consent needed for the Senate to take up the bill, and the senators left Washington with another piece of work undone.

AMT surely will be patched in December, too late for timely tax refunds. The Republican political reaction was previewed by a Senate Republican Communications Center press release last week titled: "Democrat Delays Put Millions of Middle Class Taxpayers at Risk." But one senior Bush administration official privately expressed fear that Republicans would get blamed. In last Friday's brief Senate debate, Reid said "this man, this man President Bush" caused the trouble by using "credit cards" instead of offsetting tax cuts. He did not reconcile that with his own willingness to fix AMT temporarily without raising other taxes.

Robert Novak

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

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