- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

Congressional Democrats, who have resisted a tax-cut fight with President Bush, yesterday announced their own smaller tax-relief plan as momentum builds for his $1.6 trillion proposal.

Debate over Mr. Bush's plan heated up yesterday as a leading Democrat, Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, signaled there would be more defections from his party in support of the president's tax cuts, while Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota predicted that several Republicans would vote against the White House's proposal.

"Please, let's have a discussion of the competing priorities," House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri told reporters in apparent exasperation. "It's just wrong to do this the way they're doing it."

As Republican lawmakers proceeded toward approving a major portion of Mr. Bush's tax cuts on the House floor next week, Democrats, fearful of being viewed by the public as opposing tax relief, introduced a $900 billion package and sent an urgent letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, asking for a delay in any vote.

But Mr. Hastert got an enthusiastic reception from rank-and-file Republicans behind closed doors yesterday when he said some Democrats who oppose the president's plan seem to desire a recession for their own political purposes.

Mr. Bush believes the tax cuts are needed to ward off a recession, and House Republicans intend to frame next week's pivotal vote in those terms.

"If we're doing it for the economy, how can you vote 'no' on it?" said Hastert spokesman Pete Jeffries.

The tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to vote today on Mr. Bush's proposal to reduce income-tax rates across the board. Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, ranking Democrat on the panel, introduced a competing plan that would be targeted more at middle- and lower-income taxpayers.

The Senate first must approve a budget outline for fiscal 2002 before voting on Mr. Bush's tax-cut proposal. Mr. Miller, who is backing Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan, said yesterday that he believes some Democrats are going to cross the aisle and support the across-the-board tax-reduction package.

"I think you will see some Democrats begin to sign onto this bill. I know some of them pretty well," Mr. Miller said yesterday in an interview with The Washington Times.

Mr. Miller, who has been asked by the White House to help win Democratic support for the tax cuts, said that Mr. Bush's address to Congress on Tuesday night in which he pledged to pay down almost all of the payable debt in 10 years helped him with a number of Democrats who are debt hawks.

"We governors have all dealt with shortfalls, we call them rainy-day funds," Mr. Miller said. "And he [Bush] talked about putting another $1 trillion there as a rainy-day fund. Well, now that resonates with those of us who have been governors, that this man is doing this in the right way, in a responsible way. This is what fiscal restraint is all about.

"So I think as he begins to make his case, as these senators begin to hear from the people back home, that you'll see some more Democrats coming over," Mr. Miller said. "I don't think I will be the only one."

Mr. Miller said he was approaching Democrats informally on Mr. Bush's behalf "in meetings, on the Senate floor, talking to them about what they're hearing back home. It's a more subtle way."

Mr. Daschle, however, said he was "quite confident" that Democrats will unite against the size of Mr. Bush's plan. He believes several Republican senators also will vote against the president.

"I literally could speak for three or four Republicans whose names I would love to give you," Mr. Daschle said. "But I don't think we should do that. I will just say this: If the vote were taken today, George Bush would not pass" his tax-cut proposal.

Some congressional Democrats, notably Mr. Daschle, have discouraged comparisons over the size of Republican-versus-Democratic tax cuts, saying the debate should be framed in larger terms of the overall budget.

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