- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

The White House and Senate Republican leaders are starting to play hardball with recalcitrant Republicans who did not support President Bushs tax cut and the budget completed yesterday.
"When guys dont support you on these tough issues, youre going to listen to folks who are for you as opposed to folks who arent," a top Republican senator told The Washington Times in an interview.
The primary target is Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont Republican, who infuriated Senate Republican leaders and the administration by holding out against Mr. Bushs proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut in favor of $180 billion in new spending for special education.
Without the votes of Mr. Jeffords and other Republicans such as Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Senate leaders had to trim the tax cut to $1.35 trillion to gain enough Democratic support in the 50-50 Senate.
Partly as a result, the White House revealed this week it is considering ending dairy price supports known as the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact, one of Mr. Jeffords most cherished priorities.
The Republican senator said of the White House arsenal: "Theyve got a whole lot of candy in the jar up there. They can do a lot of things to make life nice, or not so nice. The dairy compact is a good example of that."
A Senate Republican staffer said the White House action against Mr. Jeffords would be "helpful."
"Theres a lot more they can do to make somebody look insignificant," the aide said.
But Mr. Jeffords told The Times yesterday that news of retaliation by the White House was "pure speculation."
"The president made a pledge to Vermonters during the campaign that he would make sure the compact is there until such time as there was a farm bill to make any changes," Mr. Jeffords said. "He made the pledge to the Vermonters, not me."
There have been signs lately that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, too, is tiring of the handful of Republicans who cannot be counted upon to vote with their leadership. Mr. Lott said recently that he might not appoint Mr. Chafee to a conference committee on brownfields cleanup, an issue of great importance to the liberal Republican.
Mr. Chafee said yesterday he does not feel any political payback directed at him from the White House for voting against the presidents budget and tax cuts.
"I cant say that," Mr. Chafee said. "Ive been up front all along and consistent (on the budget and tax cuts)."
Senate Republican leaders agree that while Mr. Chafee often disappoints them with his votes, he has not incurred nearly the level of party wrath as Mr. Jeffords, who was criticized during the tax-cut negotiations for changing his demands.
"Of the two, I think Chafee is going to pay a much lesser price than Jeffords," one senator said. "You always knew where (Mr. Chafee) was. He didnt play games. That was not the case with Jeffords.
"If you dont trust someones word, its hard to do business with them."
Mr. Jeffords responded, "I have done nothing inconsistent. I started off with this position (on special education funding) and I ended up with it. I just do my job."
Ending the Northeast dairy compact would be the most tangible sign yet about the cost of crossing party lines in the first evenly divided Senate in more than 100 years.
The administration would be siding with Sen. Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat, who has long advocated ending the dairy price supports and who backed the budget on its initial vote two weeks ago.
The compact is an agreement that allows the six New England states to set milk prices. It expires Sept. 30, and Mr. Jeffords is hardly its only supporter.
A bill introduced in the House last week with 160 co-sponsors would ratify dairy compacts in 25 states and make permanent the Northeast dairy agreement.
Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and a longtime opponent of dairy compacts, said the debate occurs annually in Congress and he did not view the news from the White House as directed against Mr. Jeffords.
"Jim has always had to fight for that," Mr. Craig said.
Mr. Jeffords said he actually has been trying to help Mr. Bush by demanding more spending on education. He said the presidents plan to identify failing schools and requiring them to improve will cost money.
"By backing the funding, Im trying to protect the president from what Im afraid would be a very unfortunate circumstance of having all these demands on the schools," Mr. Jeffords said. "The way its set up, there would be a lot of failing schools. And correcting failing schools is going to take resources."
Another Senate Republican source said Mr. Bush, in general, favors free trade, and ending a price-fixing agreement that Mr. Jeffords supports might just be a happy coincidence.
Senate sources say whatever pressure the White House is exerting, Mr. Lott is not actively involved in the effort.
"I wish he was," said one Senate Republican staffer.
Said the Republican senator, "Trent knows what buttons to push. He doesnt need the White House to be that involved. Obviously, Democrats who help you, you make nice. With Republicans who dont help you, you dont hurt them but you dont go out of your way to help."
Mr. Jeffords said, "I just do what I think is right."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide