- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

An optimist says his glass is half-full. A pessimist would consider such a glass half-empty. Applying this analogy to the centerpiece proposal of his presidential campaign a plan to reduce taxes by $1.62 trillion through 2011 President George W. Bush is now looking at two glasses. One, poured by the House, which passed a fiscal 2002 budget resolution on March 28 making room for the full $1.62 trillion in tax relief, is completely full. The other, poured by the Senate, which last week passed a budget resolution calling for $1.27 trillion in tax cuts through 2011, is, arithmetically speaking, nearly 80 percent full. The glass of tax-cuts Mr. Bush will eventually choose, following a House-Senate conference committee that will likely split the difference, will thus be about 90 percent full.
As a result, there seems to be good reason for Mr. Bush to be optimistic on tax relief. Declaring what he clearly considered to be far more than a partial victory, Mr. Bush, responding to the Senate's action, noted that "both houses of Congress have committed to finding significant [tax] relief." Senate Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who saw 15 members of his caucus join 50 Republican senators in voting for the principal tax-cut amendment, cynically observed, "If this is a victory for them, we want more victories just like it."
So, at this stage of the tax-relief process, who's glass is fuller? Mr. Bush's? Or Mr. Daschle's? Objectively, it has to be Mr. Bush's. While the president clearly did not achieve the full tax cut he desperately wanted from the Senate, which is split 50-50, he achieved much more than Mr. Daschle did. Indeed, 11 Democrats joined the Senate's 50 Republicans to soundly defeat, 61-39, a Democratic leadership-endorsed amendment that would have provided $750 billion in tax relief through 2011, including a goofy George McGovern-like proposal that would have sent a check for $300 to every worker.
Though Mr. Daschle would, understandably, be loath to admit it, the fact is that the Democratic leadership has moved much closer to Mr. Bush than he has moved toward them. It is worth noting that the $750 billion Democratic alternative is more than four times the 10-year, $170 billion net "tax cut" endorsed a year ago by Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in response to the $1.6 trillion plan Mr. Bush first unveiled in December 1999. Moreover, as has been noted before in this space, much of the 10-year, $170 billion net "tax cut" contained in the Clinton-Gore administration's fiscal 2001 budget proposal was a cleverly disguised income-transfer scheme that had nothing to do with reducing taxes. The effective 10-year net tax cut offered by the Clinton-Gore administration a year ago and embraced by the congressional Democratic leadership was much closer to $100 billion.
Thus, before the Senate and House even begin their conference negotiations, the lower limit for tax relief $1.27 trillion through 2011 is more than 12 times higher than the $100 billion tax relief endorsed by the Democratic Party's standard-bearer a year ago. Elections, it seems, do have great consequences, the size of tax relief inarguably being one of them.
To be sure, given the Senate's precarious 50-50 balance, this year Mr. Bush almost certainly will not achieve the full $1.6 trillion in tax relief he has sought. However, he has already announced his intention to propose additional tax cuts next year. To Mr. Daschle's cynical observation "If this is a victory for them, we want more victories just like it" an optimistic Mr. Bush, raising his nearly full beer glass, should respond, "Cheers!"

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