WASHINGTON - Senate majority leader George Mitchell predicted that the Senate would pass in a very close vote today the $347 billion deficit reduction bill carrying out most of President Clinton's economic program.
After a White House meeting yesterday with Clinton and other Democratic congressional leaders, the Maine Democrat suggested that several of the Senate's 56 Democrats may vote against the bill, along with virtually all the chamber's 44 Republicans, leaving the bill with the kind of razor-thin margin of approval it received in the House.
"Whether the margin is one vote or 100 to nothing, the legal results are the same," Mitchell said.
The budget plan passed the House last month with only three votes to spare.
As the Senate began 20 hours of debate on the budget measure yesterday, Senate minority leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., agreed with Mitchell's assessment. "It's going to pass the Senate, no question about it," he said.
The debate on the budget bill and several promised Republican amendments aimed at eliminating some or all of the bill's $250 billion of net tax increases was expected to go late into this evening.
Dole and other Republican leaders unveiled an alternative budget plan late yesterday that they said would replace the Democratic budget's proposed tax increases with deep cuts in entitlement spending and domestic discretionary programs, including state and local grants.
The Republican plan, which even its sponsors said was not likely to pass, proposes eliminating what is left of Clinton's tax incentives in the Senate bill. Senate Finance Committee Democrats earlier this month had already pared back most of Clinton's investment proposals.
Already jettisoned by the committee were Clinton's proposed urban empowerment zones and complete tax exemption for high-speed rail bonds, proposals which are both contained in the House version of the bill.
The committee also had already cut back Clinton's proposed permanent extensions for mortgage revenue bonds and small-issue industrial development bonds to two years, retroactive to the old termination date of June 30, 1992. That would set a new sunset date at June 30, 1994.
The Republican alternative would eliminate the extensions entirely.