- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott yesterday agreed with Vice President Richard B. Cheney's prediction that the administration's tax cuts will pass the evenly divided Senate with votes to spare, but said Republicans still have work to do.

"I know the vice president would be pleased to cast the tie-breaking vote if it came to that, but that's not our goal," said the Mississippi Republican, referring to Mr. Cheney's exclusive interview in Monday's editions of The Washington Times.

"Our goal is to try to find a bill that will have total Republican support and a lot of Democrats, too," Mr. Lott said. "I expect that as we go through the process … that's where we'll wind up."

The full House is set to vote Thursday on President Bush's proposed across-the-board cuts in income-tax rates, the largest part of his $1.6 trillion tax-cut plan. House Republicans hold a nine-seat edge, and the vote is shaping up largely along party lines.

A top Democratic centrist said Mr. Cheney was "a little overly optimistic at this point."

Rep. Cal Dooley of California, head of the 70-member New Democrats Coalition, said that he is unaware of any of his centrist colleagues who will back the president's package as it has been presented, and that he is even hearing doubts from the more conservative "Blue Dog" wing of the party.

"I think there will be very, very few, a handful at most" Democratic defections, he said.

Mr. Cheney said in the interview that he expects the tax-relief bill to gain up to 60 votes in the Senate later this spring. So far, Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia is the only Democrat to support the Bush plan; centrist Republican Sens. James M. Jeffords of Vermont and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island oppose it as too large.

Many Democrats say the administration's budget must come first, arguing that the tax relief would consume too much of the projected $5.6 trillion surplus to pay for more education spending and prescription-drug benefits.

Without a budget in place, Senate rules require 60 votes to proceed to a vote on tax cuts.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, said he is leaning toward smaller tax cuts "as people in my state better understand the uncertainty of revenue forecasts and the surplus forecasts."

"I'm afraid we're not going to be able to cut taxes by close to $2 trillion, when you add interest costs, and then do all the other things that our president says he wants to do," Mr. Carper said.

Mr. Lott said Mr. Bush's visits this week and last week to states with Democratic senators states he won in November are building public support and pressuring Democrats. He said crowds are enthusiastic about Mr. Bush's notion of giving them a tax "refund."

"When you go around the country … that's the word they're liable to start chanting to you 'refund,' " Mr. Lott said.

Mr. Bush acknowledged yesterday that his travels across the country to sell his tax plan to the American people also are aimed at persuading Democrats to sign on. Of the 10 states Mr. Bush visited last week or plans to visit this week, six voted for him in the election. Of the states' 20 senators, 16 are Democrats.

"There is some methodology in my travels," the president said.

Mr. Bush is traveling this week to Louisiana, a state with two Democratic senators John B. Breaux and Mary L. Landrieu.

Both voted for a bill last year to remove the "marriage penalty," in which married couples pay more in taxes than taxpayers who live together but file separately. They also voted for a bill to eliminate the "death tax," in which some inheritors are taxed so heavily that they have to sell property. President Clinton vetoed both bills.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said Mr. Bush's trips can help calm public fears that the Democrats whipped up last year.

"People want to be reassured that we can afford this. [Former Vice President Al] Gore campaigned and invested a lot of effort and money in saying it could not be done," Mr. Sessions said. "I'm convinced that once the American people realize we can have spending increases, huge debt reduction and a tax cut, they're going to be very happy."

"But [Mr. Bush has] got the numbers, and we can have both. People also believe it will help the economy. I think if he just keeps it up, the truth is going to sink in."

Mr. Bush also travels this week to South and North Dakota. Those states' four Democratic senators voted against the marriage-penalty and death-tax bills, but Mr. Bush netted more than 60 percent of the vote in the 2000 election.

"I'll be going to states where we've got a good chance of convincing members, and states where maybe there's some obstinance," Mr. Bush said.

Among other Democratic senators who voted for both tax-relief packages was Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia. Mr. Bush visited the state last week and read a letter of support from Mr. Miller.

Mr. Cheney told The Washington Times: "Think about Georgia. You've got Zell Miller signed on. We carried Georgia by a comfortable margin. We hope Max Cleland would think about it."

Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, agreed with Mr. Cheney's assessment that the measure would pass, but not by any sweeping majority.

"I hope that it will pass with a lot more votes," Mr. Nickles said, "but Senator [Tom] Daschle [the minority leader] is working very hard to make sure we don't."

Rep. Amo Houghton of New York, leader of the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership, said Mr. Cheney is right in believing that most Republicans will back the president, particularly on his proposal to cut tax rates across the board.

"I agree with the president's tax proposal. I think it makes sense, it's doable if we do it carefully," Mr. Houghton said. "We just have to be careful not to fall into Reagan-era policy of not controlling spending" following a tax cut.

Mr. Houghton is pushing a plan to include a "trigger" mechanism, which would suspend the phased-in tax cuts if the economy turns sour and the projected budget surpluses dry up unexpectedly.

But Republican centrists who like the idea say they will support the cuts even without the trigger.

"I have no great expectation it will pass," said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican.

Mr. Castle said Mr. Bush's cross-country tours will help keep Republicans in line if only because for the first time in eight years "it is a Republican president out there making these points."

"That's a very different level of pressure," he said. "It's not just the [congressional] leadership asking you to vote for this, it's the president of the United States."

• Joseph Curl and John Godfrey contributed to this report.

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