- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday retreated from his criticism of President Bush's foreign policy in the wake of the president's missile-defense agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"It appears to have been successful," Mr. Daschle told The Washington Times of the president's deal to begin negotiations on supplanting the ABM Treaty with a missile defense shield and link it to bilateral cuts in nuclear stockpiles.
But Mr. Daschle quickly added, "I don't know that I can make any public comment about an assessment until I've been adequately briefed by the administration. I would like more information."
Meanwhile, the South Dakota Democrat dismissed talk by his counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, that congressional Democrats likely would raise taxes if the federal budget surplus vanished.
"I think it's far too early to come to any conclusion about changing the tax code," Mr. Daschle said. "Most of us believe that we can live within the [budget] constraints, as tight as they are, and that at the very least whatever changes ought to be done in concert with the administration."
On foreign policy, Mr. Daschle was accused of poor diplomacy last week for criticizing the administration as isolationist just as Mr. Bush was departing for Europe and a summit with Group of Eight world leaders.
"I think we are isolating ourselves, and in so isolating ourselves, I think we're minimizing ourselves," Mr. Daschle said one week ago. "I don't think we are taken as seriously today as we were a few years ago."
But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said yesterday he was impressed by Mr. Bush's deal with Mr. Putin.
"I thought it was a welcome shift in the rhetoric," Mr. Levin said. "I don't see that there's any substantive shift yet on the part of either [nation]. There is a rhetorical shift so far on the part of both, a greater willingness to engage in intensive consultations. That's the way it should be."
Mr. Daschle would not be drawn into a substantive discussion yesterday of Mr. Bush's handling of Russia and the ABM Treaty. He chose to focus instead on the administration's decision not to be bound by the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
"As I said last week, the more we isolate ourselves, the more we minimize ourselves," Mr. Daschle said. "And I think when it comes to the environmental issues, we are minimizing ourselves. That's a dangerous position for the United States to be in."
Various European leaders this week urged Mr. Bush to agree to the Kyoto treaty; the president pledged that the United States would work to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions but not within the framework of the pact.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said Mr. Bush "handled himself very well" on the European trip.
"I believe that there was a breakthrough of significant proportions between President Bush and President Putin," Mr. Lott said. "I think President Putin is showing more willingness to think this [missile treaty] through and talk about it and be innovative than many of our European allies."
Mr. Levin said Democrats deserve credit for pushing Mr. Bush into a dialogue with the Russian leader. "We've been pushing the president to have negotiations before he makes a decision on whether or not to break out of a treaty," Mr. Levin said. "That's always what we have pressed."
Mr. Bush said early in last year's presidential campaign that he would urge Russia to reduce its nuclear stockpile but would proceed with plans for a missile shield regardless of the level of Russian cooperation.
On taxes, Mr. Daschle distanced himself from remarks of Mr. Gephardt, who told an audience in Iowa last weekend that Democrats "did the right thing" by raising taxes under President Clinton in 1993.
"I'll do it again because I believe in being fiscally responsible with the taxpayers' money," said Mr. Gephardt, who is considering a run for the presidency in 2004. His office later issued a statement saying congressional Democrats had no intention of raising taxes.
Mr. Daschle, who joined Mr. Gephardt in fighting the administration's $1.35 trillion tax cut, said the White House created "a budgetary box" for itself with the tax relief.
"They can't even do the things that they want to do, that they consider to be their priorities," he said. "So they have to acknowledge that first. And at least so far, they're still in denial."
Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said yesterday he wants to extend the tax cuts beyond 2010, the year they are set to expire.
Mr. Daschle dismissed that idea.
"That would be impossible," he said. "We've already used up three-fourths of the non-Social Security, non-Medicare surplus, and we haven't completed the first appropriations bill. It's baffling to me that anybody could advocate maintaining the current situation that we've created for ourselves by passing that very inadvisable tax cut a few months ago."

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