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Congress quickly passes extension for tax cuts

Congress on Thursday approved a $145.9-billion package of tax relief to extend three popular middle-class tax cuts, giving President Bush his fourth major tax victory since taking office.

The Senate approved the measure 92-3 Thursday night less than an hour after it cleared the House 339-65.

Democrats joined in support of the politically popular measure even though they criticized the Republican-led Congress' refusal to pay for the tax relief at a time of soaring budget deficits.

The measure goes to Bush. Republicans had been eager to get the measure passed to give the president a big legislative victory in the closing weeks of his campaign for re-election.

Without action, the three provisions affecting an estimated 94-million Americans would expire at the end of this year. The legislation keeps the per child tax credit at $1,000, retains an expanded 10 percent income bracket that affects virtually all taxpayers and retains provisions to provide tax relief for married couples.

Many Democrats said they supported the popular tax cuts but were unhappy Republicans had refused to consider offsets such as tax increases in other areas or spending cuts to pay for the package and keep it from making future deficits worse.

Bush had rejected a deal offered by Democrats and some moderate Republicans that would have extended the tax cuts for one year and paid for them by closing various corporate tax loopholes. He held out instead for a five-year extension in a gamble that opposition would lessen as lawmakers got closer to the Nov. 2 elections.

Democratic opponents pointed to soaring federal deficits during the Bush administration, including an expected record deficit of $422-billion this year and said it was fiscally irresponsible to be passing tax cuts that will push the deficits higher in future years.

But even opponents conceded it was tough to ask lawmakers to vote against tax cuts with an election looming.

The tax cuts in Bush's original $1.3-trillion 10-year package which Congress approved in 2001 are scheduled to expire after 2010, but Bush is campaigning for re-election on a platform of getting Congress to make them permanent.