- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

The Senate will come under increased political pressure to act quickly on the House-passed tax-cut bill if new signs emerge that the economy is getting weaker, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas says.
Senate Republican and Democratic leaders have said that the across-the-board income-tax cut proposal will undergo lengthy hearings and could take months before it is acted on by the full Senate. But Mr. Thomas and other Republican lawmakers and administration strategists think there are a number of variables that could force a tax-cut bill to move more swiftly through the Senate in the weeks to come.
At the same time, there were new indications that some Democratic senators were looking at President Bush's income-tax cuts more favorably in the wake of the House's action last week, according to Senate Republican sources.
"We think that under the timetable the Senate has announced that there may be a potential to move more quickly," Mr. Thomas, California Republican, said in an interview with The Washington Times.
"There is the possibility that the Senate could take it up sooner rather than later if the economy continues to show deteriorating signs," Mr. Thomas said.
If that happens, "there is the possibility that the Senate could move to take up the marginal rate cuts sooner because everybody agrees, regardless of degrees, that it has some stimulative effect," he said.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, has said that weeks of hearings will be held on the tax cuts in the face of strong opposition from Senate Democrats who think the taxes are too big and unfair to low-to-middle-income workers.
But Mr. Thomas thinks other factors could accelerate the Senate's schedule.
"We've put a product on the steps of the Senate and the president is saying give me my product. The Senate can say, 'No, we have to follow procedures,' or 'There is not enough concern out there,' or 'We don't think the economy needs this,' " he said.
"If any of those factors go the other way, the pressure on those senators becomes that much greater," Mr. Thomas said.
Meanwhile, the White House and Senate Republican leaders were stepping up their lobbying efforts among key Democratic senators who may be ready to throw their support to Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan.
"It's becoming plain that there is a significant number of Democrats who would like to support the tax cuts and are examining ways that they can do that," a Senate Republican official told The Times.
Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Max Cleland of Georgia and Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey are among the Democrats that are being targeted by the White House lobbying campaign.
Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, the only Senate Democrat thus far to endorse Mr. Bush's tax cut plan, has been informally talking to several of his Democratic colleagues, including Mr. Cleland and Mr. Nelson, according to Senate sources.
Over the past week or more, Mr. Bush has traveled to most of the states of the senators on his target list and personally talked with each of them, seeking ways to get them to support his tax-cut proposal.
Senate Republican sources said that Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, who warmed Mr. Miller to Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan, and other Republican leaders have also been busy lobbying Senate Democrats.
"We think there are at least three or four Democrats who will vote with us on this, possibly more," said a Senate Republican involved in the coordinated lobbying effort by the White House.
Mr. Thomas said he was very confident that once the Senate acts on a tax-cut bill, Mr. Bush will get the across-the-board marginal income-tax rate cuts he has proposed. "If we can get to conference with it, we can pass it," he said.
A House Republican leadership official told The Times that the decision by the House to pass the tax-cut bill Thursday by a vote of 230-198 with every Republican and 10 Democrats supporting it was an important strategic move that has given Mr. Bush the political advantage in the Senate.
"Had we waited, you would have seen marginal tax rates eroded on the Senate side and in the House," this official said.
Despite the 50-50 party split in the Senate, Republican leaders think that Mr. Bush faces an easier time of getting his tax-cut bill through because he can focus his lobbying efforts on a smaller number of key lawmakers. And this time the Republicans have the full weight of the presidency and the budgetary favors that he can dispense to wavering senators.
Key Senate Republicans yesterday also said they expect some compromises on Mr. Bush's $1.6-trillion tax package in the evenly divided Senate, but predicted he would get most of what he proposed.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said last week's vote in the House approving the heart of Mr. Bush's plan an across-the-board cut in income-tax rates would give it some momentum as it heads for the Senate, though he expected lawmakers to make changes as it moves through the process.
"But when we get the final product, it'll be very close to what the president asked for in terms of the dollar amount and the structure," the Mississippi Republican said in an interview with the "Fox News Sunday" TV show.
Mr. Thomas also stressed that the president's chances of getting his tax-cut package through the Senate looked promising. "A lot of people, including members of Congress, especially Republicans, have forgotten or have never been in a Congress where there is a Republican president, an effective Republican president," he said.
"And I think a lot of people are beginning to realize that this guy is pretty effective," he said.
"He's choosing the states where a reaction to an incumbent Democrat will be maximized to do something about the problems in the economy that the president has outlined," Mr. Thomas said.
"Now that is a one-two punch that we've never had before since we've been in the majority," he said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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