WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate shipped President Bush a
wide-ranging $136 billion corporate tax-cut bill and a disaster aid
package yesterday, letting lawmakers head home for the finale of
the presidential and congressional campaigns.

Florida, a vote-rich prize that both parties covet, will be
chief beneficiary of the $14.5 billion disaster measure as the
state rebuilds from a battering by four recent hurricanes. Included
is $2.9 billion for farmers beset by drought, floods or other
emergencies, with some money headed to other electoral battleground
states like Ohio and Wisconsin.

The tax bill, which the Senate approved 69 to 17, began as an
effort to help U.S. exporters avoid European tariffs. But as
Republican leaders hunted for votes, it swelled into the most
profound rewrite of the corporate tax code in two decades.

The final 633-page product pared taxes for interests ranging
from major manufacturers to native Alaskan whalers and ethanol
producers. Other winners included fishing tackle box makers, NASCAR
track owners, Chinese ceiling fan importers, and foreigners winning
bets at U.S. horse and dog racing tracks.

“Let the record show this bill is fair. This bill is
balanced,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles
Grassley (R-Iowa).

The White House has signaled that Bush will sign the
legislation. But the administration kept a low profile as the bill
progressed, underscoring the controversy enveloping some
provisions.

The Senate was finishing its pre-election business in a testy
mood, with the usual campaign-season partisan feelings heightened
by clashes over items dropped from the compromise House-Senate tax
measure.

Those battles, along with Republican divisions over how to pay
for the farm disaster package, forced Congress to meet over the
weekend and on the Columbus Day holiday. The House finished its
work Saturday.

The Senate toiled into yesterday as Democrats used delaying
tactics to protest the removal of items from the original Senate
version. These included provisions allowing federal regulation of
tobacco, blocking Bush administration rules on overtime pay, and
cutting taxes for companies that pay workers who are reservists and
are called to active duty.

“The conferees chose ceiling fans over businesses saving
jobs of our National Guard and reservists,” said Sen.
Christopher Dodd (D-Conn).

In the end, the Senate approved separate bills on tobacco,
overtime and reservists’ pay. House passage seemed
doubtful.

Though the tax bill would cut business taxes by $136 billion
over the next decade, it claimed to raise an equal amount of
revenue by increasing other taxes, including stricter rules
governing the deduction for cars contributed to charities.

Supporters said the bill would create jobs — the loss of
which during the Bush administration has become a campaign issue.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who helped write the measure, said
200,000 U.S. manufacturing firms would benefit.

But opponents said the main beneficiaries would be
well-connected special interests.

“What was supposed to be a quick and minor fix of the tax
code blossomed into this huge giveaway of tax benefits,” said
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

Grassley responded earlier in the debate to critics who said the
measure had provisions for specific interests, saying, “Well,
that’s true. But that’s how the Senate
works.”

Work on the tax bill began two years ago as a drive to repeal a
$5 billion-a-year subsidy for U.S. exporters that the World Trade
Organization ruled illegal. About 1,600 American exports to Europe
were slapped with penalty tariffs rising 1 percent monthly to 12
percent now.

The legislation repealed that subsidy, which was to cost $49.2
billion over 10 years. Its other savings included nearly $82
billion from closing tax loopholes and corporate shelters.

In their place, taxes were cut for U.S. manufacturers by $76.5
billion. The top corporate tax rate was cut by 3 percent — to
32 percent — and qualifying businesses were expanded to
include engineering and architectural firms, film and music
companies, and the oil and gas industry.

Tax breaks for multinational companies totaled $42.6 billion,
including lower rates for one year for companies returning overseas
profits to the United States.

Opponents said that would reward companies that moved jobs
overseas, but supporters said it would increase capital available
for investments in the United States.

Residents of states without income taxes will be allowed to
deduct state and local sales taxes from their federal income
returns. There also is a $10.1 billion buyout of holders of quotas
held by tobacco farmers, though a provision allowing the Food and
Drug Administration to regulate tobacco was dropped.

The package of aid for farmers was attached to a $10 billion
military construction bill, which the Senate approved by voice
vote.

The Senate used another voice vote to send Bush a $33 billion
measure financing the Department of Homeland Security. It included
almost $900 million more than Bush proposed, but cut spending for
emergency responders from last year’s levels.

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