- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott predicted that by sundown today the Senate will "overwhelmingly" pass a bill reducing the top income tax bracket to 36 percent, a rate a leading Democrat said could drop another point before the smoke clears.
President Bush had pushed for a reduction of the rate to 33 percent, which the House supported. But the Senate Finance Committee picked a middle ground to win support from wavering Democrats and Republicans — a strategy that has persuaded perhaps a dozen or more senators to climb aboard, Mr. Lott said.
"You know, I had thought that there would probably be around 10 or so, but I think it may be more than that, and I think a lot of credit goes to Chuck Grassley, the chairman, and Max Baucus, the ranking Democrat," the Mississippi Republican said on "Meet the Press." "It will pass … I believe overwhelmingly."
But he added he doesnt "particularly like" the compromise. "I think the rates should be lower, and there are some other areas where Id make some changes."
That may happen, said Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat.
"Its a good bill I think that will pass the Senate," said Mr. Breaux, a member of the Senate Finance Committee. "I think on the top rate, there can be some give and take… . I dont see any way it could go below 35 percent and be expected to pass the Senate."
Mr. Breaux warned Republicans they risk losing it all if they try to ram a 33 percent rate down Democrats throats in a conference committee between House and Senate leaders to consolidate the two bills.
"Let me make the same warning once again — that you cannot take for granted the Senate as being willing to accept whatever the conference produces… . If it just capitulates to the House, it will not pass the Senate," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
"There is a bill that can pass the Senate, but they should not take for granted the fact that it will pass no matter what it is. There are too many moderates who say, 'Look, were going to decide when we see the final product."
Mr. Breaux, a conservative-leaning Democrat, was pivotal in forging the compromise $1.35 trillion tax cut agreed to by the White House and a majority in the Senate earlier this month.
Mr. Lott yesterday dismissed a call by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, to drop the top rate by just 1.6 percent to 38 percent in order to save money for defense spending.
"We have more than enough money that is set aside for defense," the Senate majority leader said.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, who has opposed nearly every proposal from Mr. Bush, also thinks that the tax cut is too large and that Congress should hold on to more of the projected $5.6 trillion surplus.
"Its still too large," he said. But Mr. Gephardt acknowledged that congressional Democrats are virtually powerless to do anything about it.
"Obviously we dont control the Congress or the presidency, so you knew going in that the Republicans are going to pretty much have their way on taxes," the Missouri Democrat said Saturday on CNNs "Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields."
The plan passed last week by the Senate Finance Committee would cut income tax rates across the board, increase the $500-per-child tax credit, reduce and eventually repeal the estate and gift taxes, provide tax breaks for married couples and give tax breaks for education expenses.
In addition to settling the contentious tax battle, senators appear ready to move on the nomination of Theodore Olson to be U.S. solicitor general.
Mr. Lott yesterday predicted Mr. Olson will be confirmed and charged that Democrats were simply stalling to "send a message" over the nomination of the man who successfully argued the Florida election case in the Supreme Court on behalf of Mr. Bush.
"This is not about Ted Olson, this is about a message that if you send us conservative nominees for the judiciary, the Justice Department, [Democrats] will be involved in character assassination if we have to, to stop that," Mr. Lott said on "Meet the Press."
"Well find a way to get it to the floor, and itll probably pass by a pretty good margin, although I doubt if there will be a lot of Democrats voting for him," he said.
Democrats say they simply want to make sure Mr. Olson was truthful when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had no role in the so-called "Arkansas Project" for the American Spectator magazine, which was a series of investigative articles documenting scandals in the Clinton administration. Democrats charge that the project was a coordinated effort to discredit President Clinton.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, Mr. Olson said he served on the board of the American Spectator but had no real role in the conservative magazines effort to dig up scandals linked to the Clintons.
Mr. Lott said Democrats have submitted more questions and would be able to look at additional files.
Mr. Breaux said yesterday on "Fox News Sunday" he could vote to confirm Mr. Olson, "but I would want to make sure that he truthfully answered the questions."
"If they show that he has truthfully answered, I would predict that he will be confirmed," he said.


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