- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay said yesterday the repeal of President Clinton's workplace regulations and approval of the largest tax cut in 20 years reveal the new muscle of conservatives working with the White House.

"Two historical votes in a row not bad," the Texas Republican said in an interview with The Washington Times. "I can't get this grin off my face. I go to sleep and wake up with it."

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During the 30-minute interview at his office at the Capitol, the third-ranking House Republican talked about his new role carrying out President Bush's legislative agenda instead of leading the fight against Mr. Clinton's policies. Mr. DeLay said:

• The departure of Mr. Clinton "is like taking a 500-pound rock off my back."

• He has become "very hands-on" in the GOP's effort to expand its majority in November 2002 through redistricting in as many as 100 House races.

• The "far right" of the party probably will require at least a pilot school-voucher program in order to support Mr. Bush's education plan.

• Momentum is building against new campaign-finance regulations and he is working with Democratic forces to defeat it.

• Mr. Bush suggested to House Republican leaders in a meeting last week at the White House that more tax cuts are likely next year.

"Somebody was complaining about this [$1.6 trillion tax cut] isn't big enough, and [Mr. Bush] said, 'There's always next year,' " Mr. DeLay said.

"Remember, this year is the first of four. There's always next year in tax cuts. We've got four years to look forward to. This is great."

Mr. Delay said conservative lawmakers are "more important" now with a Republican administration. The proof came this week, he said, in votes to repeal last-minute Clinton regulations on worker safety and to approve Mr. Bush's proposed across-the-board tax rate cuts.

"Without the conservatives working hard and staying focused, understanding the principle of what we were doing … we probably couldn't have passed that [ergonomics] bill," Mr. DeLay said.

"The Democrat leadership are still in denial, they're not ready to work with anybody. They think if they destroy this president, or keep us from doing things, they'll get their power back. So it's vitally important to have that conservative base from which to operate."

On the tax cuts, House Republicans turned back an effort by centrists to include a "trigger" that would bar tax relief if projected surpluses fail to materialize. Centrist senators want a trigger, but Mr. DeLay said he will work with the president to defeat that hurdle.

"We've got plenty of time to take our case to the country, and we have a president who can do that," he said. "If he'll stay strong and focus on the trigger and talk about the trigger, by the time we have to vote on a major package without a trigger in it, I think we'll be fine."

The vote-counter known as "The Hammer" acknowledged he has a "different focus" since Mr. Clinton left office.

"I don't have to spend as much time strategizing," said Mr. DeLay, 53. "I don't do that anymore that's the White House's job."

Instead, the man whom Democrats sued under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act for his campaign funding operations in the last election (a lawsuit still pending) said he is spending more time maximizing the political advantage for House Republicans from the new census figures.

"With redistricting as part of the strategy, I'm very hands-on in that," Mr. DeLay said. "Last [election] we really focused on about 25 races. With redistricting, we could be looking at 100. We have to constantly monitor that, try to figure out … what kind of races we're going to have. There's a lot of work that needs to be done right now."

He said conservatives on "the far right" are "a little worried" about Mr. Bush's education plan, particularly the perceived lack of commitment to school vouchers.

"They are sort of 'trust but verify,' " he said. "If we can do something [on vouchers], we won't lose as many conservatives. A first step, for instance. A pilot program, that's the way to do it. Instead of dropping vouchers, you work on a compromise on vouchers that will get you 218 votes."

He said "momentum is growing against" a bill by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that would ban certain campaign donations. Even the AFL-CIO in recent weeks has expressed concern that the legislation would put Democratic candidates at a fund-raising disadvantage.

"There's not enough momentum to kill it yet, but people that were using this as politics, especially the Democrats and the Democrat organizations … they're saying. 'Oops, this could actually become law,' " Mr. DeLay said. "That has created a different dynamic, and I'm trying to tap into that and see how far we can take it by bringing those people in, working with them, putting together coalitions to fight McCain-Feingold."

"We're not going to give up, that's for sure," he said.

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