- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2001

Divided Democrats are becoming increasingly unhappy with the way their leaders are dealing with President Bushs tax-cutting agenda. There is too much compromise and not enough effort to fight back with their own agenda, say some party activists.

"I´d say that around the country, Democrats are very disgruntled at the willingness of the Democrats to approve his nominations and to compromise so dramatically on his tax cuts," said Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America´s Future, which lobbies for liberal domestic-spending programs.

"If you ask Democrats, there is a lot of dismay. They would like to see a bigger challenge to Bush against the direction he is taking the country," Mr. Borosage said.

Other Democrats privately express unhappiness with their leadership´s performance, but do not want to talk about how they feel on the record. "We seem to always be backpedaling rather than standing our ground," said one Democratic strategist.

Others confess to a growing frustration about how hard it is to counter Mr. Bush´s political skills and the success he has had in winning over some Democratic support for his tax-cut plan that now totals $1.35 trillion.

Polls showing Mr. Bush´s job-approval numbers climbing steadily to 63 percent speak to "George Bush´s skill in hiding his real agenda. And that moderate language can be very seductive," said Marla Romash, an adviser to Al Gore´s presidential campaign.

"The Democratic Party has been a party of a lot of differing opinions, and that´s true today. We are a government of compromises. I think (Senate Democratic Leader Tom) Daschle and (House Democratic Leader Richard A.) Gephardt have provided effective leadership for the party," she said.

But Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic strategist, thinks that the No.1 issue right now is the sluggish economy and the rising unemployment rate, and that the Democrats are not addressing what has been one of their bread-and-butter issues.

"When you are in the minority and you don´t have the White House, getting everyone to sing from the same page is like herding cats," she said.

"The Democrats should be out there talking about creating jobs, and nobody´s talking about it" in the party, she said.

While Democratic leaders are fighting the Bush tax cuts, they have progressively moved a lot closer to what the president has proposed. After supporting a minimum of $250 billion in tax cuts early in the 2000 presidential campaign, Democratic leaders embraced $500 billion in the general election, then agreed to $700 billion early this year, eventually raising that to $900 billion, which Mr. Daschle said was his final line in the sand.

But even that line was crossed by 15 Senate Democrats, led by Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, who voted last month for the Senate budget resolution that called for $1.2 trillion in tax cuts.

Mr. Breaux acknowledges that the Democrats have moved "a lot further in the president´s direction than he has moved toward ours."

That movement to the right has not played well with the Democratic Party´s liberal base, Mr. Borosage said.

"But it´s hard for the minority party in both houses to have a clear agenda, to create an alternative agenda, when the president has the bully pulpit," he said.

The chief reason for this is the widening division among Democrats between its liberal wing, which wants a great deal more spending and opposes any significant tax cuts, and New Democrats led by Mr. Breaux, who support deeper tax cuts and a slightly slower rate of spending increases.

"The question for the Democrats is not, 'Have you successfully put forward an alternative agenda?´ but 'Have you successfully fought the Bush agenda and its inadequacies?´" he said.

A recent bipartisan poll conducted by the Tarrance Group, a Republican firm, and Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, showed that the Democrats were losing their edge to the GOP on a number of key issues from education to health care to keeping the economy prosperous.

"If you look at public-opinion polls, this is a very inattentive public. It´s very hard to get your message through," Mr. Borosage said.


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