Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee broke up in disarray yesterday morning after failing to secure support for a tax package that would have extended the president's 2003 cut to the tax rates on dividends and capital gains. Joining the panel's Democrats, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) declared she could not support a tax cut that primarily benefited the rich as Congress was trying to cut programs for the poor. But when the panel's chairman, Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), tried to win approval of a tax package without the investment tax cuts, panel conservatives refused to go along.
The cracks were showing in other areas, as well.
In an 82 to 9 vote yesterday, the Senate approved an amendment to the defense authorization bill by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to require Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to disclose to Congress the existence of clandestine terrorism detention facilities in foreign countries. The existence of such facilities was disclosed Nov. 2 by The Washington Post, and the Senate vote suggests Republicans are feeling heat from voters on the way Bush is conducting the war on terrorism.
For the second time, the Senate last week approved a measure ardently opposed by the White House to restrict and codify interrogation methods, this time unanimously. Vice President Cheney's personal overtures to exempt the CIA from the restrictions have had little effect.
"If necessary, there will be a third time and a fourth time and a tenth time, until we win," said the provision's author, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Both chambers of Congress are moving toward limiting some of the far-ranging surveillance and search powers lawmakers granted the administration following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
And the Senate is insisting on a provision in its budget-cutting bill that would eliminate a White House-backed fund to entice managed care companies into the Medicare program. When Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) was asked about a White House veto threat over the measure, he called it "absurd."
Bush's call to make his first-term tax cuts permanent has had so little support that Grassley drafted a bill that would simply extend some of the Bush tax cuts for a single year. Even that may go nowhere.
"It should go away," Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) said of the tax package. "We ought not to be involved in it."
Voinovich said the budget rebellion reflects increasing voter unease about Republican priorities: "There's uncertainty. There's anxiety," he said. "It's the common sense of the American people looking in on us and questioning what we're doing. People say, 'This doesn't make sense to us.' " A crucial test of White House clout will come next week, as the Senate and House attempt to complete the fiscal 2006 Defense Department spending bill. McCain originally attached his amendment on interrogation techniques to the Senate version, and the White House has threatened to veto any bill that contains the provision.
But McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war and a possible 2008 GOP presidential candidate, is couching his effort in moral terms. "A clear and firm commitment on the part of the United States government that we will not only not torture, but we will not treat people in a cruel or inhumane fashion is absolutely vital," McCain said after a speech yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute.
Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.