Lott Calls Tax Cut an Option, but Puts Social Security First

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Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said yesterday that he is willing to use surplus tax revenue for tax cuts.

"Certainly it's an option," he told reporters in the hallway outside his office.

But first the Mississippi Republican wants to make sure he inoculates his party against charges that it is robbing from Social Security.

"I'd be perfectly willing to try to get 60 votes for a significant tax cut," he said. "But we have to make sure we put Social Security first."

Meanwhile, House conservatives are pushing for a plan that would use as much as 50 percent of the projected $1.6 trillion in surpluses over 10 years to cut taxes. They would eliminate the marriage penalty at a cost of about $150 billion over five years. As part of the same package, they would pass a measure that shores up Social Security. "We need to have that voted on before we leave in August," said Rep. David M. McIntosh, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House conservative group called CATS.

Mr. McIntosh said the strategy is to send the House home to campaign on the issue in August, hoping it would embolden the more timid Senate to cut taxes.

Others said that is unrealistic.

"I've heard people talking about trying to pass something by Aug. 7, but that's a long shot," said one lobbyist who favors using the surplus for tax cuts. "We need to work about defining the party, not shaking up the Senate."

New Congressional Budget Office projections of $1.6 trillion in surpluses over 10 years have turned tax policy on its head. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has publicly predicted $1 trillion in tax cuts over the next decade.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said if surpluses aren't rebated to the American people, they will be spent by Washington.

"Either that money is going to be spent by big government for the purposes of big government, or it's going to be available to be returned to me in the form of a tax cut," Mr. Armey said.

He said the Democrats used Social Security taxes to finance bigger government. …