- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

The White House has "botched" the debate over President Bush's prescription-drug plan, but is likely to get the bulk of the accelerated tax cuts he wants by early April, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said yesterday.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, also gently admonished White House officials for not briefing him fully on the president's tax-free supersavings accounts, which caught him by surprise and have since run into criticism from some House Republicans.
"I didn't have any idea that they would be so sweeping," the chairman of the tax-writing panel said in an interview with The Washington Times.
"The White House doesn't have to brief me on anything, but if they would brief me, I could keep them out of some trouble," Mr. Grassley said. "They can do what they want to, but they can't get it done without Congress' approval, and it's my job to help the president. But they've got to give me an opportunity to help him."
Some of Mr. Bush's allies on Capitol Hill have privately complained that the White House has not promoted his tax-cutting initiatives as well as it could, a complaint that Mr. Grassley disputed.
But he said he was not satisfied with the way things are going on the president's other domestic-policy fronts.
"The only thing that the White House has botched is their discussion of prescription drugs. They don't have it well thought out about what they want to do. And they've leaked too much and said too much to the demagogues of the other party, who believe that only the government can deliver health care," he said.
Mr. Grassley said that he left a congressional Republican strategy retreat at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., this weekend with "a strong sense of urgency about getting the budget and the stimulus package done by late March or early April."
If a party strategy emerged from the weekend discussions, it was "that we have a mandate out of the last election to deliver these tax cuts, and sooner rather than later," he said.
He said that he planned to begin work on a compromise tax-cut bill with the ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, while the House was at work on its bill, so that by the time the House acts, "we'll already be well on our way."
While some Republicans voiced concern over the deficits, the overwhelming consensus at the weekend meetings was on the need to pass a major, tax-cutting stimulus bill to get the economy back on track in time for the 2004 elections.
"I think most of the top rates will be accelerated. Most Republicans have bought into this, and a couple of Democrats have, and I think you'll find other Democrats who are going to buy into parts of these things as we go along," he said.
Many House Republicans at the Greenbrier meeting "talked much more strongly than I've heard before that they want a lot more accelerated depreciation for small businesses" than is in the president's plan.
"So I think you are going to have a stimulus package with the depreciations and the marginal tax cuts at the core," he said.
Mr. Grassley said the economy's lackluster growth dominated the party's discussions at the Greenbrier retreat.
"There was more concern that the [economic weakness] comes from anxiety from a war in Iraq, and a very positive feeling among Republican legislators that if the war is relatively quick and short, that between now and the next elections, there is going to be a dramatic upturn in the economy," he said.
But Mr. Grassley said that he was "not as confident as some of my colleagues that the war is going to be as short and easy as people think, but maybe I tend to be more of a pessimist."
" That's kind of my nature," the Iowa lawmaker said.

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