- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2000

Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are talking about cooperation on one of the most divisive issues in the campaign tax cuts.

“We’re going to compromise,” House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Whoever is president, we’re going to have a tax cut.”

Instead of summarily dismissing the $1.3 billion across-the-board tax cut on which Texas Gov. George W. Bush campaigned, the Missouri Democrat suggested a compromise might range from $500 million to $1 billion.

Signs of an economic slowdown make tax cuts all the more likely, Bush running mate Richard B. Cheney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The economy is slowing down, and I would think … reducing marginal rates is exactly what needs to be done with respect to providing the kind of stimulus to ensure the resumption of long-term economic growth,” Mr. Cheney said.

Going into the election, an unusually large number of Democratic elected officials endorsed Mr. Bush, including more than 20 state lawmakers from around the country, a U.S. House member Rep. Ralph M. Hall of Texas and seven former House members.

“Nobody will argue with you that Bush is not flexible,” New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel told The Washington Times.

“Bush’s problem won’t be working with Democrats but working with [House Majority Whip] Tom DeLay [of Texas],” Mr. Rangel said. “He takes no prisoners.”

He said conservatives like Mr. DeLay “want to stop” what they perceive as “the socialists’ hold over this country.” Mr. Rangel said Democrats don’t see House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois or House Majority Leader Dick Armey as a problem. “We can get along,” Mr. Rangel said.

An ideological ally of Mr. DeLay in the House said privately that he is confident that the Texas Republican and other conservative stalwarts in Congress will “learn from Bush and find unifying ways to portray things without giving up our principles or alienating their constituents back home.”

Some Republicans say Mr. DeLay’s feisty conservatism is not the “problem” for Mr. Bush that Democrats like Mr. Rangel claim it will be.

“DeLay knows how to work things out,” said Rep. Jennifer Dunn, Washington Republican. “He will always push for a conservative agenda, but if you look a the legislative agenda in the last two years, you’ll see he got bipartisan sponsorships for the top 10 bills.”

Mr. Bush’s biggest initial problem may come from the Republican side. Arizona Sen. John McCain is committed to making campaign-finance reform one of the first orders of business in the new Senate, even though it is the most contentious issue dividing Republicans. Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain were on the opposite sides of the issue during the primary battles.

“The Senate is going to bring up campaign finance reform and will have enough votes to defeat cloture,” John Weaver, strategist for Mr. McCain’s Republican presidential campaign, told The Washington Times. He said Mr. McCain will fight to push campaign finance reform through.

Mr. McCain’s relations with Mr. Bush have come into question. Many Republicans noted the absence of Mr. McCain during the postelection Florida fight over absentee military ballots, which Democrats strove to have disregarded on what Republicans called “technicalities.”

Mr. Weaver said the Bush camp never asked Mr. McCain, a Vietnam war hero, to take a public stand on the military ballot issue. “Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh called me on Friday after Thanksgiving and asked if he could send specific proposals for the senator to consider being involved in,” Mr. Weaver said. “We said we’d be happy to consider them, but to date we have not received them.”

A competing agenda on the Republican side would be a threat to getting off to a good start, especially with the 50-50 Republican-Democratic split in the new Senate and a reduced House majority.

But Republican lawmakers and their aides said privately that the leadership in both chambers has been going over some measures that, as one put it, “don’t require a lot of heavy lifting,” and that can be passed and sent to Mr. Bush, if he becomes president, within the first 100 days.

These Republicans mentioned three bills that have already passed both houses but were unable to survive vetoes by President Clinton. Two are tax cut measures ending the inheritance or “death” tax and the “marriage penalty” and the third is a partial-birth abortion ban that social and religious conservatives particularly want.

“These three are doable,” Mrs. Dunn said, adding that Mr. Bush “will have to move very fast. I see him putting together a bold agenda and getting it done in the first six to nine months.”

Although Democrats could use the filibuster to hold up Senate consideration of the tax bills, that may be less likely under a Republican president.

Conservative Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma told The Washington Times that “Democrats in the House have seen that the obstructionist path only left them in the wilderness” and that Senate Democrats will not be as likely “to pursue the filibuster route without the cover of a Democratic president’s bully pulpit.”

Neither party, in any case, is drawing the partisan lines in the sand.

Mr. Rangel said Republicans and Democrats were close enough on the marriage penalty and estate tax cuts to make both doable in the new Congress. “We wanted partial repeal of estate tax and they wanted a complete repeal,” he said. “Republicans, though, could campaign on a veto rather than enact a compromise. It is clear they want those initiatives more than we, but they are both honest areas for compromise.”

Mr. Rangel said that even when it comes to Mr. Bush’s education-reform proposals, compromise would be possible.

Mrs. Dunn agreed, but said, “much will depend on whom [Mr. Bush] names as education secretary.” She suggested Lynn Cheney, the wife of the man who would be vice president in a Bush White House.

Mr. Rangel’s willingness to talk compromise with a Bush White House does not extend to an abortion ban, however. “I wouldn’t go there,” he warned.House does not extend to an abortion ban, however. “I wouldn’t go there,” he warned.

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