Ending months of partisan brawling and fiscal turmoil, Congress adjourned early this morning after giving final approval to a package of tax increases and spending cuts totaling $492 billion over the next five years, including $41.4 billion in savings in the fiscal year that began almost a month ago.
Yesterday's action -- the House voted as dawn was breaking over the Capitol, and the Senate voted as twilight was about to fall -- sent the compromise deficit-reduction measure to President Bush for his signature. It ended the threat of government furloughs or shutdowns and completed a tortuous cycle that began Jan. 29 when the president submitted his spending plan to Congress.
Along the way, congressional leaders and administration officials squabbled in the family quarters of the White House, a converted bar at the Andrews Air Force Base Officers' Club and in rooms throughout the Capitol. Partisan politics roiled the process as Bush abandoned his "no new taxes" pledge of the 1988 campaign, Democrats painted the Republicans as the party of the rich and the government shut down for three days.
"The American people deserve better than that," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) said yesterday. "They're tired of this chaos."
In Honolulu yesterday, Bush said, "There are some things in it I had to gag and digest." But he said he would sign the legislation into law "because for the first time, it makes significant and long-term cuts in federal spending that should have a positive impact on America's economic future."
Passage of the deficit-reduction measure was one of the last major items of business standing between the 101st Congress and adjournment. Both the House and Senate remained in session until early this morning for a final flurry of legislative action, including votes on several appropriations bills. The House adjourned at 1:03 a.m., having gained an hour when daylight saving time ended. The Senate followed a few minutes later.
Never since World War II have lawmakers remained in Washington so close to Election Day, now barely more than a week away. Yesterday, the House Republican cloakroom's tape-recorded legislative schedule played a song by the 1960s rock group The Animals: "We've Got to Get Out of This Place."
"We're tired and exhausted, and it's been a long road," said House Budget Committee Chairman Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.).
Early this morning, the Senate joined the House in approving a short-term funding bill to keep the federal government running at full force beyond 12:01 a.m. today, when current spending authority expired, through Monday, Nov. 5. The House had passed the measure late last night. The extension would give congressional clerks enough time to prepare the deficit-reduction and spending bills for presentation to Bush.
Despite the earlier drama of this year's budget battle, the debates leading up to yesterday's 228 to 200 House vote and the Senate's 54 to 45 roll call were generally lackluster. Weary lawmakers said the measure would reverse the fiscal policies of the past decade, when both the deficit and the national debt more than tripled.
"This is the beginning of what I would call the great correction, the fundamental adjustment of too many years of indulgence and excess," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.) said as the Senate considered the bill late yesterday afternoon.
"We're attempting to turn our backs on instant political gratification -- the curse of this institution -- and subject ourselves to long-overdue discipline," House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) said in the pre-dawn House debate.
In the House, only 47 Republicans joined 181 Democrats to approve the bill while 74 Democrats voted against it. In the Senate nearly 11 hours later, 19 Republicans joined 35 Democrats to support the measure as Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu and Office of Management and Budget Director Richard G. Darman watched from the chamber's gallery. Twenty Democrats, including 10 of the 16 whose names will appear on election ballots next week, and 25 Republicans opposed the plan.
Most of the 66 House and Senate Republicans who voted for the measure were northern moderates.
The legislation, the largest package of tax increases and spending cuts ever enacted by Congress, would touch virtually every American in some way. All but the poorest would pay higher taxes with the richest paying the most, according to congressional tax analysts. People would pay higher taxes to drive, fly on a commercial airline, smoke, drink alcoholic beverages and buy such expensive items as jewelry, furs, boats and luxury automobiles.
Medicare beneficiaries would pay higher out-of-pocket expenses. Farmers would get lower commodity payments, and federal employees would no longer be able to take their retirement benefits in a single payment.
Given the marathon nature of the budget battle, it seemed fitting that the House vote came at the end of a 21-hour session.
The plan's final details were not settled until Friday night. It took the House legislative counsel hours more to draft the massive bill and its accompanying report -- together more than 1,000 pages long, weighing more than 24 pounds and standing 10 inches high -- in order to ready it for floor consideration. House debate on the measure began at 4:18 a.m. yesterday, and the vote did not end until 6:58 a.m.
House Republicans complained that the package contained too many taxes and too little spending savings. "We are going to tax people right out of a job," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). "If you are voting for this just to get out of here, you're going to have trouble getting back here."
"The train is leaving the station, and it's got the taxpayers' wallets right on it," said Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio).
Other Republicans argued that the package was the best that could be accomplished. "If this bill does not pass tonight, we'll only get worse results," said Rep. Bill Frenzel (Minn.), the House Budget Committee's ranking Republican who is retiring after 20 years in Congress. Pinned on Frenzel's lapel was a button declaring, "Free the 101st Congress."
Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) urged his GOP colleagues to support the bill. "The American people understand that the economy demands that we do something, even though it's easier to do nothing," he said.
Many of the House Democrats who voted against the measure were either southern conservatives or have closely contested reelection races next week. Others opposed it for parochial reasons. All seven Democrats from New Jersey, where former House member Gov. James J. Florio (D) has set off a firestorm with higher taxes, voted against the measure. Ironically, Rep. Jim Courter (R), whom Florio defeated in the governor's race, was the only member of the New Jersey delegation to vote in favor of the package.
Overall, the package contains provisions designed to generate $164.6 billion in new tax revenue over five years. It also includes tax breaks aimed at the working poor, oil and gas developers and small businesses that would lose $27.4 billion over that period. Benefits programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies and veterans benefits, would be trimmed by $99 billion over five years.
People who earn between $51,300 and $125,000 would pay $26.9 billion more in Medicare payroll taxes over five years. Those who drive, smoke, travel on commercial airlines, drink alcoholic beverages and buy luxury items would pay roughly $53.1 billion in higher taxes over five years.
The measure would raise $11.2 billion over five years by evening out the top two marginal individual income tax rates at 31 percent. That would be an increase from 28 percent for the approximately 600,000 highest income Americans and a cut from 33 percent for 3.5 million upper-middle-income taxpayers.
But the measure also would also limit the benefit of the tax deductions claimed by taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes higher than $100,000 a year, generating $17.9 billion, and gradually eliminate the $2,050 personal exemption for individuals who earn more than $100,000 and couples filing jointly who earn more than $150,000. Those provisions would raise another $10.8 billion.
Following are the main tax and spending provisions of the deficit-reduction package. Unless otherwise noted, the tax changes would be effective on Jan. 1. TAX INCREASES
Increase the amount of income subject to the 1.45 Medicare payroll tax from $51,300 to $125,000. Raises $26.9 billion over five years.
Limit the benefit of deductions claimed by taxpayers, both individuals and couples, with adjusted gross incomes higher than $100,000 a year. Raises $17.9 billion over five years.
Even out the top two marginal individual income tax rates at 31 percent. This would be an increase from 28 percent for about 600,000 high-income Americans (individuals who earn more than $109,100 and married couples who file jointly and earn more than $185,730) and a cut from 33 percent for 3.5 million upper-middle-income taxpayers (individuals who earn between $47,050 and $109,100 and married couples who file jointly and earn between $78,400 and $185,730). Raises $11.2 billion over five years.
Gradually eliminate the $2,050 personal exemption for individuals who earn more than $100,000 and couples filing jointly who earn more than $150,000. Raises $10.8 billion over five years.
Increase 9-cent-a-gallon federal gasoline tax to 14 cents on Dec. 1. Raises $25.0 billion over five years.
Permanently extend 3 percent tax on local and long-distance telephone service. Raises $13.1 billion over five years.
Renew the federal excise tax on airline tickets and increase it from 8 percent to 10 percent on Dec. 1. Raises $11.9 billion over five years.
Double the federal excise tax on a six-pack of beer from 16 cents to 32 cents, on table wine from 3 cents a 750-milliliter bottle to 21 cents and on 100-proof liquor from $12.50 a gallon to $13.50, or about 20 cents a fifth. Raises $8.8 billion over five years.
Increase the federal excise tax on cigarettes from 16 cents a pack to 20 cents on Jan. 1, 1991, and to 24 cents on Jan. 1, 1993. Raises $5.9 billion.
Impose a 10 percent tax on the portion of purchase price of new private planes above $250,000, boats above $100,000, automobiles above $30,000 and furs and jewelry above $10,000. Raises $1.5 billion over five years. TOTAL TAX INCREASES: $164.6 billion over five years. TAX BREAKS
Expand the earned-income tax credit for the working poor. Loses $12.4 billion over five years.
Establish a $500 tax credit for taxpayers with children under 1 year old. Loses $666 million over five years.
Extend through Dec. 31, 1991, miscellaneous tax breaks that would have expired this year. Loses $5.9 billion over five years.
Create tax breaks for oil and gas developers, mostly independent operators, that would gradually diminish after the price of oil reaches $28 a barrel and would be eliminated when the price reaches $34. Loses $2.5 billion over five years.
Create tax breaks for small businesses. Loses about $1 billion over five years. TOTAL TAX BREAKS: $27.4 billion over five years. NET DEFICIT REDUCTION: $137.2 billion over five years. DISCRETIONARY SPENDING
The measure would write into law spending limits for military, domestic and foreign aid programs over the next three years. Pentagon accounts would be cut $67.2 billion below the level needed to keep pace with the projected rate of inflation while domestic and foreign aid programs would grow with inflation. In the fourth and fifth years of the five-year accord, the $115 billion in savings would be allocated between military and nonmilitary accounts by House and Senate appropriations committees. TOTAL DISCRETIONARY SPENDING SAVINGS: $182.4 billion over five years. BENEFIT PROGRAMS
Medicare, the fastest-growing federal program, would be pared $42.4 billion from anticipated levels over five years. Most of the savings of about $32 billion would come from reduced reimbursements to physicians and hospitals. Only $10 billion of the Medicare savings would come beneficiaries. The amount of out-of-pocket costs beneficiaries must pay before receiving benefits for the voluntary coverage of physicians and outpatient hospital services would increase from $75 to $100. Monthly premiums for the same program would gradually rise from $28.60 this year to $29.90 next year and to $46.50 in 1995. The changes include a $1.3 billion expansion to cover mammography screening.
Medicaid projected spending would be cut $607 million over five years by requiring drug companies to offer price discounts to those in the program. This includes an expansion to pay Medicare premiums for more elderly poor recipients and provide home care for them. In addition, the program would be expanded to cover more children.
Farm commodity programs would be cut $11.9 billion over five years.
Student loan requirements and regulations would be tightened, saving $1.7 billion over five years.
Veterans' benefit programs would be trimmed $3.7 billion over five years.
Federal employees would no longer be able to take their retirement pensions in a single payment effective Dec. 1, saving the government $7.6 billion over five years.
TOTAL BENEFIT PROGRAM SAVINGS: $99.0 billion over five years.
TOTAL INTEREST SAVINGS: $64.8 billion over five years.
Compiled by John E. Yang