- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

The House yesterday approved on a nearly party-line vote an across-the-board cut in income-tax rates, the largest part of President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax-cut plan.
"Today, we offer the heart of President Bush's tax-cut plan," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican. "Lower taxes, permanently, for all. It's about time."
The vote was 230-198, with a unified Republican caucus being joined by 10 Democrats, mostly conservative Southerners led by Ralph M. Hall of Texas but also including James A. Traficant Jr. of Ohio.
The measure heads next to the Senate, which is not expected to consider tax-cut legislation until May. There, support for the plan among centrist Republicans is less certain, and substantial revisions are likely.
In the meantime, House Republican leaders intend to continue passing piece by piece the other portions of Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan.
The bill passed yesterday is worth $958 billion and is almost identical to the one presented by Mr. Bush during his campaign.
By 2006, the plan would create a new 10 percent tax bracket and consolidate four upper brackets ranging from 28 percent to 39.6 percent into three brackets, of 33 percent, 25 percent and 15 percent.
Mr. Bush, headed for North and South Dakota last night to build public support for his tax-cut plan, said there are "ample revenues to send money back to the people who pay the bills, the taxpayers."
Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, defended as an economic necessity the speed with which the tax-rate reduction got to the floor.
"For people who care about the economy and getting the economy started in the right direction, quick action on this tax package is critical," he said.
The measure would cut taxes by $6 billion in 2001 and by $950 billion during the next decade. That is about $130 billion more than what Mr. Bush projected as the value of his plan.
"This tax cut is the least we can do," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, arguing that federal revenues are at record peacetime levels when measured as a percentage of gross domestic product.
Republicans also argued that their tax-cut plan would prevent Congress from frittering away projected surpluses with increased spending and that a retroactive portion of the bill would help spur the economy and prevent a recession.
Democrats countered that Congress should agree to a 10-year budget before passing a 10-year tax cut. And, if Congress does pass tax cuts, those cuts should be targeted toward lower-income families, Democrats said.
Democrats also scoffed at the idea that a tax cut worth at most $180 for a taxpayer in 2001 would spur the economy.
The Republican plan would accelerate a portion of Mr. Bush's plan by creating a new bottom tax bracket on the first $6,000 of a taxpayer's income. The rate would be 12 percent in 2001 but drop to 10 percent by 2006.
The vote came after a sharply partisan debate, including the 273-155 rejection of a 10-year $590 billion tax cut alternative offered by Democrats and a snarl of procedural votes demanded by angry conservative Democrats.
"We have written the administration. We have asked for a meeting with [House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert]," said Rep. Charles B. Stenholm, Texas Democrat, expressing frustration that the tax-cut bill was written without Democrats and then rushed through the House.
Mr. Stenholm and other members of the "Blue Dog Coalition" were the conservative Democrats many had assumed Mr. Bush would seek out for the bipartisan compromises he promised during the campaign.
But the lesson from the last week is clear, an irate Mr. Stenholm said: "We are in the minority, and we are getting ignored."
Rep. Jim Turner, Texas Democrat, said, "The president says cut taxes; the Blue Dogs say cut taxes. The president says hold down spending; the Blue Dogs say hold down spending … but what we want to make sure is that the tax cut fits within responsible budgets."
Mr. Blunt said he suspects some Democrats would like to put off the tax-cut package in order to let the economy continue to cool. That way, Mr. Bush would be blamed for a slowdown that started under President Clinton.
Even though Mr. Blunt, Mr. Bush's closest ally in the House, specifically said the Blue Dogs don't fit into that category of Democrats, he still pointedly criticized the group.
"There are some Blue Dogs who always want to cut taxes, but it's never the tax we want to cut that day," Mr. Blunt said.
Besides Mr. Hall and Mr. Traficant, the eight Democrats who broke with their party were Robert E. "Bud" Cramer of Alabama, Gary A. Condit of California, Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia, Ken Lucas of Kentucky, Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, and Bob Clement and Bart Gordon of Tennessee.
For their part, conservative Republicans insisted they had made a major concession to Democrats: They allowed Democrats to offer their alternative tax-cut plan.
The Democratic plan would have created a new bottom bracket, increased the standard deduction for married couples and increased the Earned Income Tax Credit, but it would not have cut upper-income tax brackets as proposed by Mr. Bush.
Without that alternative, Democrats in next fall's elections would have had to face voters with little defense for having voted against the Republican tax-cut plan, a Republican aide told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity.
"That is bipartisanship," the aide said.
The tax-cut vote followed another bruising partisan battle Wednesday: that one over whether to overturn workplace safety regulations put in place during the last days of the Clinton administration.
"Bipartisanship is over, not that it ever began," said House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.
Ironically, lawmakers head today to West Virginia for a bipartisan retreat intended to increase civility in Congress.
"This is my last time," Mr. Gephardt said. "Been there, done that, and all I got was a T-shirt to show for it."
Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican, said recent events had hurt interparty relations and that others had already decided to back out of this weekend's retreat.
"People are feeling really out of sorts," said Mr. LaHood, who helped start the biennial retreats in 1997 and continues to organize them.
Still, Mr. LaHood said it is by no means certain that hurt feelings will last in the House and that there should be no backlash in the Senate.
"That's a whole other planet over there," Mr. LaHood said.
Proof of that was the Senate Finance Committee's hearing on marginal tax rates, at which Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, talked about the tax-cut bill that he and ranking Democrat Max Baucus of Montana would try to write.
"There is going to have to be give and take. We are going to have to get bipartisan support," Mr. Grassley later told reporters.

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