- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2001

The ideological split in the Democratic Party is getting wider, as a band of centrists is poised to break with the partys liberal leadership to back deeper tax cuts, a lower spending rate and other initiatives supported by President Bush and the Republicans.
Led by Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, who helped to found the conservative-leaning Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a group of about a dozen or so Senate Democrats appears ready to give Mr. Bush the bipartisan support he is seeking for his budget proposals, which call for a total of $1.35 trillion in tax cuts over the next decade.
Not only is the Senate New Democrat Coalition group that Mr. Breaux leads embracing much higher tax cuts and less spending than House and Senate Democratic leaders support, it is working with Mr. Bush on a broad range of other parts of his conservative agenda —including Medicare and education reform, partial privatization of Social Security and higher defense spending.
And this is making liberal Democrats very unhappy.
"Theres a group of New Democrats who are trying to help make this new Republican administration more successful. You could call Breaux a leader of the Republicans," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Institute for Americas Future, a liberal Democratic policy group.
Mr. Breauxs alliance with the president has made Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschles leadership virtually impotent on the major fiscal issue in this session of Congress and on the centerpiece of Mr. Bushs agenda.
"In this kind of situation where the Senate is split 50-50, Breaux can deliver a significant bloc of Democrats to support many of Bushs initiatives. The unfortunate thing is that they are splitting the Democrats and helping Bush and neither of those is a good way to get back the White House and a majority in Congress," Mr. Hickey said.
Mr. Breaux has praised the budget compromise as an example of bipartisanship in which the White House agreed to a tax cut total of $1.25 trillion, plus $100 billion for an economic stimulus in fiscal 2001 and 2002 — all told, about $250 billion less than Mr. Bush proposed. Several Democratic senators have signaled that they will support the deal, including Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
"I will be pleased to vote for it," Mr. Nelson said after attending a White House meeting along with Mr. Breaux and Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey.
A last-minute disagreement over the final figures in the draft compromise raised "some concerns" by Mr. Breaux, but Republicans said they expected them to be worked out by today.
However, while the Breaux faction was praising the budget deal, their partys leadership was condemning it in the harshest terms.
House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt has said the budget will "cut public education," would "roll back 30 years of environmental progress to make our water and air clean and safe," and "deplete the Social Security and Medicare trust funds and drive us back into deficit spending to pay for a tax cut for the wealthiest individuals and special interests."
Yesterday on CNNs "Late Edition," Mr. Gephardt said that the Democratic leadership was making a final push to convince recalcitrant Democrats to change their mind and vote against Mr. Bushs budget.
"If we can get people to stop for a minute and really look at this thing and the real trade-offs that affect people, ordinary people out there every day, I think well get some more votes and make a different decision," he said.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) began a TV ad campaign Friday that similarly attacks the budget plan Congress will vote on tomorrow and Wednesday. "[Mr.] Bushs tax plan means fewer cops, a dirtier environment, less help for farmers, worse child care and no real prescription drug benefit, all to pay for more tax relief for the wealthy," said DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Democrats seem to be more united over in the House where even the conservative faction of the party, known as the "Blue Dogs" and led by Rep. Chris John of Louisiana, has been opposed to the Bush budget because it does not put more of the surplus into paying down the national debt.
But even among the Blue Dogs, Mr. Bush is finding some allies on key issues.
Shortly after Mr. Bush announced the formation of a presidential commission to come up with a plan to implement his proposals for partially privatizing Social Security, Rep. Charles W. Stenholm of Texas put out a statement applauding and congratulating the president for his action.
A longtime Blue Dog leader who has supported letting workers put part of their payroll taxes into private investment retirement accounts, Mr. Stenholm said he believes "that many in Congress are ready to tackle a topic that previously has been considered too politically dangerous to discuss."
While Democratic leaders have downplayed the partys divisions, a spirited and sometimes rancorous debate has been going on in other quarters.
Will Marshall, a DLC leader who runs the organizations policy-making arm, complained in a recent article that Al Gore was largely to blame for the Democratic Party having lurched further to the left in the past year.
"Instead of running on the winning New Democrat formula, the Gore campaign often looked and sounded like a throwback to the doomed Democratic campaigns of the 1980s, replete with vintage class-warfare themes and narrowly tailored appeals to constituency groups," Mr. Marshall wrote in the American Prospect, a magazine that promotes liberal causes.
But American Prospect Editor Robert Kuttner, a liberal crusader who longs for the return of New Deal-Fair Deal-style government activism, dismissed that criticism, saying that all too often the DLCs ideas "turn out to be either variations on Republican ideas or mere gimmicks."


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