- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Democratic leaders suffered a serious setback when Sens. Zell Miller of Georgia and Phil Gramm of Texas, two conservatives from opposing parties, joined forces to fight for President Bush's income tax cut plan.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, had hoped for a united party front to stop or at least reduce Mr. Bush's $1.3 trillion tax cut plan. But when Mr. Gramm, a former Democrat, announced Monday that he and Mr. Miller were teaming up to sponsor the Bush tax reduction plan, it blew a big hole in Mr. Daschle's anti-tax-cut forces.

"Right now, our taxes have never been higher. Right now, our surplus has never been greater. To me, it's just plain common sense that you deal with the first by using the second," Mr. Miller told reporters.

"Remember that old Elvis Presley song, 'Return to Sender'? That's what we want to do with this overpayment of taxes," he said.

The announcement that Mr. Gramm had recruited a Democratic heavyweight to join the Bush tax-cut crusade was seen as a coup by a master legislative tactician who had dealt Democratic leaders a similar blow almost 20 years ago.

Mr. Gramm was only a second-term House Democrat in 1981 when President Reagan was facing entrenched Democratic opposition to his own across-the-board income tax rate reduction plan. He came out for the Reagan tax cuts and worked behind the scenes to help win the support of conservative Democrats that handed Mr. Reagan a stunning victory.

Now, Mr. Gramm and Mr. Miller have joined forces to do for Mr. Bush what Mr. Gramm did for Mr. Reagan two decades ago.

The unexpected decision by Mr. Miller, a former two-term governor who helped Bill Clinton win the presidency in 1992, disappointed Senate Democrats and drew cheers from the White House and its Republican supporters yesterday.

"Miller's decision to join Gramm in moving the president's tax cuts through Congress is a hopeful sign that relief from record-high taxes may be on the way," said John Berthoud, president of the National Taxpayers Union.

After "a meeting in the woodshed" yesterday with Mr. Daschle, Mr. Miller emerged unbowed from his decision.

"He and Senator Daschle had a cordial conversation. Each of them didn't back down and the senator told him he isn't leaving the party. People up here don't know Miller's record. This is not all that different from what he did in Georgia. He's surprised by the reaction he has received," said his spokeswoman, Joan Kirchner.

But for the Bush forces and congressional Republican leaders, Mr. Miller's move has dramatically changed the political dynamics in the upcoming legislative warfare over the president's tax cuts.

With the Senate split 50-50, the White House believes that Mr. Miller one of the most popular Democrats in the South will be able to bring some of his like-minded Democratic colleagues on board the tax-cut bandwagon.

"There are a lot of Zell Millers in the Congress," said Karl Rove, the president's chief political strategist.

Like Mr. Gramm, who worked hand in glove with the Reagan White House to win Democratic support for the Reagan tax cuts, Mr. Miller plans to work closely with the Bush White House, an aide said yesterday.

"He's going to be an advocate of this bill, and I think you are going to see other Democrats coming over to support him," Ms. Kirchner said. "I would assume that there will be open lines of communication between our office and the White House as well as with Senator Gramm."

Tax cuts are not the only items on Mr. Bush's agenda that Mr. Miller supports. He also is backing the president's education plan, a decision he made after joining Mr. Bush two weeks ago at an education forum where the two had a chance to discuss their views.

Mr. Miller, a respected, fiercely independent Democrat, had one of the highest job-approval ratings of any governor in the country 85 percent when he ended his second term in 1999.

As governor, he eliminated the tax on groceries, cut income taxes and ended the death tax, cutting taxes overall to the tune of $1 billion. He enacted a state lottery and used the proceeds for a statewide preschool program and Hope scholarships to send any Georgia student with at least a B average to any Georgia state college they chose.

Appointed to fill the unexpired term of the late Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage last summer, Mr. Miller easily won a full term in November and brought his tax-cutting philosophy to Washington.

"Senator Miller is the Democratic spokesman for the Bush tax cut, and he's the person [with] the responsibility for explaining it to the country and to other Democrats in the Senate," said Larry Neal, Mr. Gramm's press secretary.

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