- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

Democratic Sen. Zell Miller sharply criticized his party's political leaders yesterday, warning that they were making "a terrible mistake" with their class-warfare attacks against President Bush's tax-cut plan.

Mr. Miller, the only Democrat thus far to embrace Mr. Bush's tax cut plans, said that if his party continues to play polarizing politics on the tax-cut issue "the voters are going to skin us alive" in the 2002 midterm elections.

The Georgia senator said he did not like the tactics being used by House and Senate Democratic leaders to discredit Mr. Bush's tax-cut proposals. He also denounced the language being used by Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe as "over the top."

"I think the Democratic Party could not have made a worse choice in choosing Terry McAuliffe as chairman of the DNC. He stands in the shade of Bill Clinton," Mr. Miller said in an interview with The Washington Times.

Mr. Miller said he was particularly disturbed by the harshness of Mr. McAuliffe's rhetoric. The DNC chairman has accused Mr. Bush of pushing a "radical right-wing agenda" and continues to insist that Al Gore won the election and that "the wrong man is sitting in the White House today."

"I listened to him the day he made his speech accepting the chairmanship, and to me it just sounded like fingernails just scraping across a blackboard," he said.

"That kind of language is just over the top, and it goes against what most Americans want from us right now. They want us to solve these problems and quick. And election year in and election year out we're talking about the same … things that are used as political fodder. I'm talking about the Democrats," he said.

Mr. Miller also had harsh words for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, who have repeatedly attacked Mr. Bush's plan to cut income-tax rates across the board as a giveaway to the rich at the expense of the poor and the middle class.

"I hate this class-warfare talk. I think the Democrats are making a terrible mistake and don't serve the people very well by engaging in it," he said.

"It's bad politics. Most of the poor that I know don't have this class envy. They have this desire to move up in the world and into higher income brackets," he said.

"I think the Democrats are making a terrible mistake by being against a tax cut. I know that they are saying they want tax cuts and want to make it more fair and everything, but their body language and what Joe Sixpack hears out there in the Kmart parking lot is that they're against giving him a tax cut," he said.

"If we go back in 2002 with this same old [class-warfare] mantra, the voters are going to skin us alive," Mr. Miller said. "I don't like it."

Mr. Daschle and Mr. Gephardt have denounced Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan, saying it would result in a return of deficit spending, would provide little if any tax cuts for people in the bottom brackets and do nothing to pay down the debt.

But Mr. Miller rejected their arguments as political hype and distortions, saying: "I've heard all this before from the propeller heads when I was cutting taxes in my state as governor. I just do not believe all this doomsday talk. Figures don't lie, but liars do figure," he said.

After Mr. Bush's address to Congress Tuesday night, Mr. Miller said he had the feeling that the voters think "that this president is reaching out and trying to solve problems."

"And it looks like the Democrats are not reaching back like they should. And I think that's bad for the country and bad for politics," he said.

Mr. Miller said it was possible that Mr. Bush could obtain more support from Democrats for his tax-cut plan if he raised his 33 percent top tax-rate bracket or if he modified the estate-tax repeal.

"Those might be some things that would bring people on board. I'm not advocating that. I like it just the way it is, and I think it can be passed pretty much like it is," he said.

Mr. Miller said he was set against the Democratic idea of adding a "trigger" provision in the tax cut in the event that surplus revenues declined or disappeared entirely.

"One of the things that you do by cutting taxes is that you let taxpayers know that they are going to get a certain amount and they can make those kinds of plans" such as future purchases or investments, he said.

"But if you put a trigger on it, they assume that it's just not going to happen," he said.

However, he said he was pleased that Democrats "have moved away from talking about targeted tax cuts."

"Anytime Joe Sixpack heard about targeted tax cuts, he thought you were talking about targeting somebody else," he said.

When it was announced at the beginning of Mr. Bush's first week as president that Mr. Miller was holding a news conference with Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, to co-sponsor the Bush tax-cut plan, it triggered speculation that he was going to announce a switch in parties.

"I was knocked off my feet," Mr. Miller said at the time about the rumors, adding that he had no intention of changing parties.

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