- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Given the Senate's leadership, it's probably too much to expect that the Democrat-controlled body would act more constructively during this session of the 107th Congress, which begins today, than it did at the end of the last session. Indeed, as the economy lingered toward its fourth quarter of recession last month, Senate strongman Tom Daschle, the Democratic majority leader from South Dakota, sent his colleagues home after he blocked a vote on a White House-backed economic stimulus package. Then, Mr. Daschle's first political act of 2002 was to deliver an economically nonsensical diatribe in which he asserted that the bipartisan 10-year tax cut passed last spring "probably made the recession worse." Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe repeated this economic lunacy on Sunday, telling Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press," "I think the tax cut was part of the reason we're in the steep recession we're in today."

Lacking the courage of his convictions, however, Mr. Daschle refused to acknowledge what irrefutably represented the centerpiece of his so-called "comprehensive new plan for economic growth." Ditto for Mr. McAuliffe. At an absolute minimum, the obvious policy recommendation underlying Mr. Daschle's plan would be the indefinite delay, if not outright cancellation, of the balance of President Bush's 10-year tax cut that has yet to be implemented. In fact, Sen. Ted Kennedy who, unlike Mr. Daschle, does have the courage of his fiscal convictions recently demanded that the growth-oriented income-tax rate reductions scheduled in future years be indefinitely delayed. Mr. Kennedy effectively called on Congress to pass legislation in the middle of a recession, no less that would increase tax rates from their statutory level.

Fortunately, not all Democratic senators are as economically obtuse as Messrs. Daschle and Kennedy. As a matter of fact, none of the dozen Democratic senators who joined their Republican colleagues in voting for last year's tax-relief bill has changed his or her mind. Perhaps Georgia Democratic Sen. Zell Miller said it best. "Maybe it's at a level my brain can't reach," Mr. Miller told The Washington Times shortly after Mr. Daschle delivered his speech. "How do you have as one of your highest priorities to re-elect the moderate Democrats from South Dakota, Montana and Missouri on one hand, then on the other hand blame them for voting for a tax cut that he maintains has created this recession? Hello?"

Despite the power he exercised as majority leader in blocking a vote on a stimulus bill, Mr. Daschle has proved to be powerless in convincing Sen. Tim Johnson, his Democratic colleague from South Dakota, to change his mind. "Senator Johnson voted [last year] for tax rebate and a tax bill that was a bipartisan compromise," Mr. Johnson's campaign manager recently said, according to Roll Call, adding, "Tim made the right vote at the right time." In an interview with The Washington Times, a spokesman for Missouri Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan said, "She would be supportive of allowing the tax cuts they voted for to keep going." A spokesman for Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, told the Associated Press after Mr. Kennedy's speech that Mr. Baucus "respectfully disagrees" with Mr. Kennedy. According to the aide, Mr. Baucus, who played a central role last year in fashioning the bipartisan tax-relief compromise in the Finance Committee, "doesn't feel it would be appropriate to revisit the tax cut in the midst of a recession."

A spokesman for Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who also must face the voters this year, told The Times that he "can't imagine that she would advocate delaying or repealing" the tax cut. New Jersey Democratic Robert Torricelli, also up for re-election, told Roll Call, "It's not appropriate to reverse the tax cut while we are in the midst of a recession." Democratic Sen. John Breaux, a moderate from Louisiana who is not facing re-election this year, has asserted that repealing tax cuts would constitute a tax increase "the worst thing you can do" in a recession. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who resoundingly won re-election in 2000, was just as direct. Noting that "over a trillion dollars of that tax cut has not yet gone into effect," Mrs. Feinstein emphatically rejected the economic thesis of Messrs. Daschle and McAuliffe. "The impact of the tax cut has not yet been felt," she told CNN, adding, "So I don't think it worsens the recession at all." Back to you, Tom and Terry.

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