- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2000

NASHUA, N.H. The fight over the future of economic conservatism has become the defining issue of the Republican primary debate.
Neither George W. Bush nor John McCain planned it that way. But that is what is emerging from the hot rhetoric in the bitter New Hampshire cold, five days before the voters go to the polls in the first primary of 2000.
The argument being mounted by the Texas governor is that the race for the Republican nomination is what it has always been about since Ronald Reagan's first election as president major across-the-board tax cutting, in good times and bad, that leaves as little as possible for Congress to spend.
The Arizona senator, by contrast, makes the case for tax cuts that are much more modest and that, like President Clinton's, are targeted to help some groups but not others.
In addition, Mr. McCain argues that the next president needs to provide long-term economic security, which he says requires smaller tax cuts in order to leave money on the table to "save" Social Security and pay down the national debt.
"We have two candidates, both economic conservatives, but with radically different approaches," said McCain campaign spokesman Dan Schnur. "New Hampshire Republicans, at least, seem inclined to support the McCain world view on what is economic conservatism."
That is exactly the point that Bush campaign chief strategist Karl Rove said Mr. Bush would attempt to drive home to New Hampshire voters before Tuesday that there is a radical difference in economic views between the two leading Republican candidates.
But Mr. Rove told The Washington Times he believes by hammering home the distinctions, Mr. Bush will be able to convince Republican voters in this state that his brand of economic conservatism is truly Republican while Mr. McCain's is a warmed-over version of the Democrats' approach.
And Mr. Bush proceeded to do just that at campaign appearances here Thursday.
Noting that Mr. McCain had said in Wednesday's Republican debate that "Clinton copied his tax plan," Mr. Bush said, "That's a difference of opinion. So I think when Republicans go in the booth in New Hampshire and around the country, it's important to nominate somebody who will be able to debate the Democrat nominee on key issues, not mimic him."
Mr. Bush said the difference between he and Mr. McCain is that Mr. Bush believes "it is important to cut taxes in order to keep the economy growing."
Mr. McCain has been emphasizing other priorities. Mr. Schnur said Mr. McCain believes that in "a recession, the conservative approach is to cut taxes across the board. But when the economy is growing, the voters are able to think about long-term and short-term economic security."
"So by providing the significant tax relief but also setting aside enough money for Social Security and debt reduction, John McCain addresses the voters' short and long-term economic interests," Mr. Schnur said.
Mr. Bush, however, advanced the classic supply-side conservatism about which his father, when running for president in 1980, expressed severe doubts.
The Texas governor said Thursday that he comes "from the school of thought that says by reducing marginal rates on everybody, it enhances productivity, encourages growth and I believe everybody ought to get a tax cut not a few, but everybody."
Mr. McCain says by cutting the top rate, Republicans would be helping the rich, but Mr. Bush said "cutting the top rates encourages entrepreneurship."
Thursday, Mr. Bush, in a carefully timed and staged event that aimed to show that he is in the mold of the Reagan brand of Republican economic conservatism, stood side by side with Jack Kemp at the Nashua headquarters of Sanders, a defense contracting firm and the state's largest employer.
Mr. Kemp, the very symbol of tax-cut Republicanism, endorsed Mr. Bush as a true supply-side tax cutter.
The McCain campaign, which falls far short of both the money raised and the endorsements garnered by the Bush campaign, sought to minimize the Kemp endorsement's impact.
"If you make a list of all the things the Bush campaign has done wrong over the last six months, I don't believe 'not enough endorsements' would rank very high," Mr. Schnur said. "At some point, Governor Bush is going to have to tell the people of New Hampshire what he stands for in terms that are relevant to their lives.
"If he doesn't make that case in the next five days, the $70 million he has raised won't help and all the endorsements and lobbyists and special interests in Washington won't help him either," he said.
But Mr. Bush told reporters that the Kemp endorsement "is an important part of my campaign. Jack Kemp was one of the original authors of growth by cutting marginal tax rates. He understands what the effect on the economy will be if we cut marginal tax rates, which is what I'm going to do."
Mr. Kemp told The Washington Times he "did not decide to come up here until McCain started using class-warfare rhetoric against the Bush tax plan." Mr. McCain has said that Mr. Bush's across-the-board tax cuts would benefit the rich.
For his part, Mr. Kemp, who had endorsed publisher and flat-tax proponent Steve Forbes in the 1996 Republican presidential nomination contest, picked up the theme of the great divide over economic conservatism in the 2000 contest and ran with it.
"Senator McCain, for whom I have great regard, is obsessed with debt reduction," Mr. Kemp said. "He is defending the Clinton tax code, and that's indefensible. He said last night that Clinton's [tax cut] plan is like his plan. We don't need another Clinton tax plan. What we need is the Bush plan as a step toward reform of the tax codes."

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