- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

NEWS ANALYSIS

President Bush showed Thursday that by trimming his tax cuts slightly to win over a handful of like-minded Democrats, he now has a working majority in Congress to pass at least $1.35 trillion in tax reduction by the end of the month.
Despite relentless attacks by his liberal critics and media naysayers who doubted that Mr. Bush would get anywhere near what he proposed in the budget he sent to Congress in February, the president ended up getting most of what he wanted in the plan that the Senate approved yesterday.
He proposed that discretionary spending increases which soared by 20 percent over the past three years be reduced to 4 percent a year, and he got that. He wanted $1.6 trillion in tax cuts, then pared that figure down to $1.4 trillion to win a majority in a deeply divided Senate, and he came close to that figure, too.
The Senate has been the administrations toughest obstacle from the beginning because of its precarious 50-50 split, so yesterdays bipartisan vote was the presidents biggest legislative victory to date, proving for the first time that his economic-recovery plan has enough support to pass Congress much earlier than expected.
"This means that there is going to be a significant tax cut for the American people and thats the overriding message of the vote," said Nick Calio, the presidents chief legislative lobbyist.
"It has set in motion a process, the end of which will produce tax relief," Mr. Calio told The Washington Times.
"This means that the hard parts done. Its very easy to vote no on a budget. It is very hard to vote against a tax cut," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, and a key player in the administrations tax-cut strategy. "I think we cleared the biggest hurdle we have in adopting the Bush economic program."
The budget resolution that the Senate passed is a loosely drawn document of spending levels and revenue targets, and the authorization and appropriations process can change its numbers to some extent. But it locks in the tax cuts that the administration considers critical and prohibits the Democrats from filibustering the Bush tax plan, which would have required 60 votes to block.
A simple majority of 51 votes, or a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Richard B. Cheney if necessary, is all that is needed to get the presidents tax-cut bill through the Senate. Yesterdays 53-47 vote for the Republican budget plan, including five Democrats, suggested that the president will have more than enough votes to do that.
"The Democratic leadership was pressing their members to vote no, but their leadership is going to have a harder time on $1.35 trillion worth of tax cuts because people back home want those tax cuts. On the final tax cut bill that comes out of conference, well get over 60 votes," Mr. Gramm told The Washington Times.
Mr. Bushs legislative strategy from the beginning has been to reach out with some strategic compromises to a small number of conservative-leaning Democrats, like Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, leader of a group of New Democrat lawmakers who have been trying to change their partys liberal, big-spending orthodoxy. Mr. Bush has had Mr. Breaux to dinner twice in the White House residence, and senior White House aides said the two men have forged a close working relationship.
"They like each other, they work well together. The president thinks this is the start of a beautiful friendship," said a senior White House adviser.
Mr. Bush personally lobbied Democrats who were part of the 15-member Breaux faction. He already had the support of Sen. Zell Miller, who helped bring aboard his Georgia colleague, Sen. Max Cleland. Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the tax-writing Finance Committee, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, both of whom were heavily lobbied by the president, gave the president the five Democratic votes he needed.
Notably, both Mr. Baucus and Mr. Cleland are up for re-election next year and come from states that Mr. Bush won easily last year.
Senate Democratic sources said yesterday that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was especially angry with Mr. Baucus vote and was reconsidering whether Mr. Baucus should have the authority to negotiate the tax-cut bill for the Democrats.
"I did hear that a number of members expressed concerns at the meeting," a Baucus adviser said last night. "The senator presented the framework of what could be a bipartisan compromise agreement on the tax bill. There was probably some frank discussion."


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