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Congress pushes tax cuts as session winds down

Lawmakers on Thursday pieced together legislation to extend popular tax breaks and save doctors from a cut in Medicare payments as Republicans prepared to cede control of Congress to the Democrats.

House GOP leaders delayed a vote until today. In the Senate, leaders were experiencing lingering unhappiness with the bill from several GOP senators, especially over extending trade benefits for textile exports from Haiti.

The legislation also contained several trade-related measures, including extending normal trade status to Vietnam.

Action on the tax and trade legislation and a subsequent vote on a bill to keep the government running through Feb. 15 were the chief obstacles to concluding the 109th congressional session.

It was hardly the first time the GOP-controlled Congress had employed a secretive, closed-door process to assemble important legislation. Still, Democrats supported the contents of the bill - if not the way it was put together.

"This is not a perfect bill, but it renews tax cuts Americans need right now, like the college tuition deduction, and makes sure that Medicare and Medicaid patients will have access to care next year," said Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, top Democrat on the Finance Committee.

Democrats mostly went along with extending expired tax breaks. They include a research and development tax credit, worth $16.5-billion, and a sales tax deduction for people in states without income taxes, at a cost of $5.5-billion. All told, the tax cuts would cost $38-billion over five years.

Also driving the bill forward was an effort to forestall a 5 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors.


Mark Foley update

The House ethics committee could be close to finishing its report on former Florida Rep. Mark Foley's improper conduct with former pages. Committee members would not comment on when they would issue their findings. Committee leaders said in early October the investigation would be finished in weeks, not months, and members have said privately they did not want to carry the matter over until next year. Foley resigned Sept. 29.