- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

Georgia Sen. Zell Miller, a lifelong Democrat who has emerged as a key Senate player in the tax-cut debate, isn't happy with his party's leadership these days.

He thinks that Terry McAuliffe, whom Bill Clinton picked to run the Democratic National Committee, and who also served as Clinton's bagman in the campaign-finance scandal, is an abysmal choice to represent the party. And he abhors the polarizing class-warfare tactics being used by Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt.

Mr. Miller, the only Senate Democrat thus far to embrace President Bush's across-the-board income-tax cut, fears that if his party continues to play divide-and-smear politics with the tax-cut issue pitting one income class against another "the voters are going to skin us alive" in next year's congressional elections.

Mr. Miller, who was an enormously popular two-term governor with a record of cutting taxes in his state ($1 billion worth, including elimination of the tax on food), has a reputation for not mincing words. And he certainly didn't mince any with me during a wide-ranging interview in his Senate office last week.

He is incensed by the inflammatory, racially polarizing rhetoric that Mr. McAuliffe is using at the DNC to attack Mr. Bush and the Republicans.

"I think the Democratic Party could not have made a worse choice in choosing Terry McAuliffe to chair the DNC," he told me. "He stands in the shade of Bill Clinton."

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

Mr. McAuliffe's exploitation of the anger African-Americans harbor over the outcome of the Florida election battle, his attacks on what he calls Mr. Bush's "radical right-wing agenda," and his insistence that "the wrong man is sitting in the White House today" is hurting the party, Mr. Miller says.

"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 damn things that are used as political fodder," he said. "I'm talking about the Democrats."

He is equally incensed about Messrs. Daschle and Gephardt's class-warfare attacks on Mr. Bush's proposed income-tax cuts. The attacks are an attempt to pit the poor and the middle class who would benefit substantially from the tax cuts against those in the upper income brackets who pay most of the taxes. Mr. Miller thinks that kind of liberal, Third World, industrial-age rhetoric is out of step with the New Economy, in which 70 percent of voters own stock, and out of step with the cherished American dream of climbing the economic ladder to the top.

"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 a desire to move up in the world and into higher income brackets," he added.

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

If Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle continue playing the politics of polarization with the tax cuts, "and we go back home 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"

Nor is Mr. Miller impressed with the fuzzy math that Messrs. Gephardt, Daschle and the rest of the leadership of his party are using to condemn Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan, charging that it would eat up the surpluses and leave huge debts and unattended priorities in their wake.

"I've heard all this stuff before from the propeller heads when I was cutting taxes in my state as governor," he said. The critics said the cuts would hurt the state, but the state's economy flourished. They said it would deplete needed revenue, but tax revenue rose. "I just do not believe all this doomsday talk" by Messrs. Daschle and Gephardt.

And then he added, perhaps with Messrs. Daschle and Gephardt in mind, "Figures don't lie, but liars do figure."

With the Senate split 50-50, and with a couple of liberal Republicans threatening to vote against the Bush tax cut, Mr. Miller's quiet, behind-the-scenes lobbying of like-minded Democrats will be pivotal to the outcome of the tax-cut battle.

He refuses to name likely converts, but he assures me that "you will see some Democrats begin to sign on to this tax bill. I know some of them pretty well."

One unnamed Senate Democrat, who is "a very good friend we were governors together," was impressed by Mr. Bush's emphasis on paying all of the payable public debt ($2 trillion) in 10 years and creating a "rainy day" reserve fund for future needs.

That could be Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a likely tax-cut ally. When Mr. Bush flew to Omaha last week to promote his plan, Mr. Nelson was on Air Force One with him. If a couple more tax-cutting Democrats like Messr. Miller and Nelson jump aboard, Mr. Bush's tax cuts are as good as passed.

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