- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

When the subject is taxation, isn't it amazing how the proximity of an election can have such a salutary effect upon politicians, even Democrats? When the Senate passed President Bush's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut on May 26, 2001, it did not go without notice that six of the 12 Democratic senators voting for the measure were up for re-election this November. Moreover, all of them at the time expected to face strong competition, and, in fact, most of their seats are being vigorously contested.
That fact goes a long way toward explaining why Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has been unable to muster the courage of his convictions and call for a repeal of the tax-relief measures that have not yet been implemented. After all, his fellow Democratic senator from South Dakota, Tim Johnson, was one of the Democratic dozen who voted for the president's tax-relief plan. Paradoxically, Mr. Daschle's status as majority leader may well depend upon the degree to which Mr. Johnson can convince the South Dakota electorate, which voted for Mr. Bush by a 61-38 percent margin in 2000, that he truly does embrace the president's tax policies.
Interestingly, Democratic support for Mr. Bush's tax-relief agenda isn't confined to endangered incumbents. As it happens, the vast majority of non-incumbent Democratic Senate candidates contesting the most vulnerable seats defended by Republicans have expressed support for last year's tax cut.
James Barnes of the National Journal canvassed the Democratic Senate campaigns of non-incumbents running in eight competitive races for seats currently held by Republicans. Five of those eight Democratic candidates Attorney General Mark Pryor (Arkansas), former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland (Colorado), Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), former College of Charleston President Alex Sanders (South Carolina) and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (Texas) said they would have voted for the 2001 tax cut. Rep. Bob Clement, who is running for the Senate in Tennessee, did, in fact, vote for the tax cut as a member of the House. Only two Democratic Senate candidates for the eight vulnerable Republican seats in question former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (North Carolina) and Secretary of State Bill Bradbury (Oregon) said they would have opposed the tax cut.
Moreover, as Mr. Barnes discovered, five of the eight Democratic Senate candidates Messrs. Strickland, Clement, Kirk and Sanders and Mrs. Shaheen would also support making permanent at least some of the Bush tax cuts, which are otherwise scheduled to expire after 2010.
For his part, Mr. Daschle expressed such disdain for the well-timed tax cuts that he incomprehensibly asserted in January that they "probably made the recession worse." More recently, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt contemptuously criticized the tax-relief program as "a mammoth tax-cut giveaway."
It should also not go unnoticed that Messrs. Daschle and Gephardt harbor presidential ambitions. Both probably figure that playing the class-warfare card represents the quickest path to the Democratic presidential nomination. In the case of Mr. Gephardt, who once proudly attached his name to the Bradley-Gephardt tax-reform plan that would, like Mr. Bush's, establish a top individual income-tax rate of 35 percent, such a gambit is especially shameless. Fortunately, the party of Messrs. Daschle and Gephardt, if many of their senatorial aspirants are an indication, seems to have more than a few burgeoning tax-relief aficionados and, in the case of Mrs. Shaheen, at least one burgeoning aficionada.


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