- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Democrats in a rush to avoid blame for the slumping economy are suddenly free-lancing in their calls for more tax cuts, upstaging not only Republicans but also their own party leaders.
"The economy has got to the point where the Senate Democrats are saying, 'We're not the minority party, and we've got to come up with our own ideas,'" said Chris Lapetina, a Democratic political consultant.
Prior to last weekend, congressional Democrats seemed content to sit back and demand that President Bush provide the answers to a dwindling surplus and competing budget priorities. Then the government reported Friday that the unemployment rate in August rose to 4.9 percent.
"There's nothing like a recession to make converts out of Democrats to tax-cut theology," said Marshall Wittman, a congressional analyst at the Hudson Institute in Washington. "The Democrats are positioning themselves so they'll have cover from Republican attacks that they have no program."
After weeks of Democratic leaders blaming President Bush's tax cuts for a tightening budget and a worsening economy, Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and John Kerry of Massachusetts said Sunday they would support cuts in the Social Security payroll tax.
But a senior Democratic leadership aide in the House, where Democrats are in the minority, made it clear yesterday that a cut in payroll taxes was not in the party's game plan.
"It was not part of any party initiative," the aide said, adding that more tax cuts "would further exacerbate the situation."
"Most of the Democrats realize our answer to Bush is our budget," the aide said. "The partywide strategy is to go back to our budget and protect Social Security and Medicare."
Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, said in a letter to The Washington Times yesterday that Congress should cut the capital-gains-tax rate — another idea dismissed by the party leadership.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said yesterday he would like lawmakers to consider cutting both the capital gains and the payroll taxes. Mr. Lott also said he thought the Democrats' strategy of waiting for Mr. Bush to provide all the answers for the shifting budget scenario had backfired.
"If you just stand on the sidelines, as some Democrats have done, and said, 'Oh, well, you know, this is bad,' … that's not credible," Mr. Lott said. "If they come up with some alternatives, then I think we should be prepared to work with them on that."
Whether Democrats are sincere in their desire for more tax cuts — most congressional Democrats opposed Mr. Bush's income-tax relief — is open to question.
"If you apply a polygraph to these Democrats, they probably will not pass the tax-cutting part of it," Mr. Wittman said. "There probably is no genuine enthusiasm for tax cuts."
But Democratic strategist James Carville said Democrats promoting relief from Social Security taxes should be taken at their word.
"I couldn't think of a better public policy than cutting the payroll tax," Mr. Carville said, adding that lawmakers also should incorporate a refundable child care credit, an idea promoted by the Democratic Leadership Council.
Cutting the Social Security payroll tax is an especially attractive idea to some Democrats because it applies only to taxpayers earning less than $80,000. Some Democrats see the political value now of promoting a middle-class tax cut to compete with the proposal favored by many Republicans of trimming the capital-gains rate. The majority of taxpayers do not pay capital- gains taxes.
"That [cutting the payroll tax] takes the populist message away from Bush," Mr. Lapetina said. "The Democrats can say 'We gotcha' on this."
Congressional Republicans have been pushing the administration to cut capital-gains taxes from 20 percent to 15 percent. Mr. Bush has been leaning toward waiting until next year for such relief, preferring to give the income-tax cuts more time to have an impact on the economy.
The GOP has been sensitive, too, in recent days to the stagnant economy and is anxious to be seen as taking steps to create more jobs. House Republicans last week promoted a capital-gains-tax cut, and called on the Senate to complete the administration's energy plan, which could create up to 700,000 new jobs.
Recent internal polling by House Republicans showed them six percentage points behind Democrats, largely due to the flagging economy and their failure to talk more about education.


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