- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

The majority leader discounted reports yesterday of a defector from the party while a GOP colleague tried to block portions of the presidents tax cuts — just another day in the delicate Republican control of the U.S. Senate.
As the Senate headed toward passage last night of a crowning achievement for President Bush and Republicans — a $1.35 trillion tax cut — there were fresh reminders of how easily Republicans control of the chamber could vanish.
Republican Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, who has voted with the Democrats frequently this year, did little yesterday to dispel speculation that he might leave the party and throw control of the Senate to the Democrats.
"Regardless of party label, Senator Jeffords will continue to do what is best for Vermont and the nation," said Jeffords spokesman Erik Smulson.
Told that the senators statement was not exactly a denial, Mr. Smulson replied, "Would you like me to spell my name?"
The Washington Times reported yesterday that Democratic leaders had offered Mr. Jeffords chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee — the same post he holds now — if he would switch parties or become an independent.
"This is not about committee chairmanships," Mr. Smulson said.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said he is not surprised by reports that Democrats are trying to entice Mr. Jeffords.
"Im sure that there are those that have urged him to do that," Mr. Lott said. "But … just because you have a Democrat that votes with the Republicans or a Republican that votes with the Democrats, that doesnt mean that theyre fixing to make a switch."
Mr. Lott said Mr. Jeffords, who warbles with the majority leader in the "Singing Senators" quartet, has not discussed with him notions of quitting the party.
"We are friends and have been for a long time," Mr. Lott said. "Hes never indicated anything of that nature to me."
Said a Lott aide yesterday, "We love Senator Jeffords in the Republican Party."
Recently Sen. Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat who bedeviled Minority Leader Tom Daschle by supporting Mr. Bushs tax-cut plan, denied speculation that he would switch to the GOP.
"Right now, weve got senators in both parties that occasionally go on the other side, and thats just the fact of life, and you have to deal with that," Mr. Lott said. "It makes my job and Senator Daschles job challenging and interesting every day."
The chamber is split between 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, with Vice President Richard B. Cheney on hand to cast tie-breaking votes. Since the beginning of the year, there has been open speculation about the frail health of 98-year-old Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
And then there is Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.
Mr. McCain, who lost a rancorous presidential campaign to Mr. Bush last year, has positioned himself against the administration this year on campaign finance, on HMO reform and on gun control. Yesterday Mr. McCain added tax cuts to that list.
He introduced a motion last night to prohibit tax cuts in the top two income brackets until the administration spells out how much money it intends to spend on defense in fiscal 2002.
"Without knowing how much the administration intends to spend on national defense, its difficult for me to support the [tax-cut] bill," Mr. McCain said yesterday.
The amendment was rejected on a 56-43 vote.
"I campaigned all across this country telling American service men and women that help is on the way," Mr. McCain said, invoking Mr. Bushs signature campaign pledge. "So far, not one penny of help is on the way. And we are about to enact one of the most massive tax cuts in history."
Mr. Lott dismissed Mr. McCains proposal as unnecessary, and indicated that both he and the White House had tried to talk Mr. McCain out of his action yesterday.
"I believe that there is enough money for defense," Mr. Lott said. "Ive discussed that issue with Senator McCain last [week], and I believe the administration has been talking to him. I dont think theres a need to freeze returning this tax surplus to people that pay the bills in order to provide what we need for defense."
The majority leader said the administration is likely to request a supplemental defense appropriation within the next two weeks, and there is about $6.5 billion available in the current fiscal year for that expenditure.
Mr. Lott also said there is at least $500 billion available over the next 10 years as a "rainy-day fund" to be used for defense, education or health care.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is conducting a top-to-bottom review of military needs and is expected to present to Congress his spending requests for the short term and beyond.
"I presume it would probably cost more money this year and in the out years, and that we will get that [additional defense appropriations]," Mr. Lott said.


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