- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2003

With the economy having lost nearly half-a-million nonfarm jobs during the past two months alone, President Bush should not find himself in the position of imploring members of his own party to increase the level of tax relief they support from $350 billion to $550 billion through 2013. Yet, Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio unaccountably remain obstinate in their refusal to endorse even the minimum level of the White House's economic short-term stimulus and long-term growth package. They do so at the peril of the slowly expanding economy.
In January, the president unveiled his much-needed tax-relief plan, which would have reduced taxes by $726 billion through 2013. The House passed a budget resolution incorporating the full $726 billion in tax relief, which the Republican-controlled Senate (51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning Independent) could have approved by a simple majority vote. Except for Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, Democrats were in lock-step opposition; and Republican Sens. John McCain and Lincoln Chafee, both of whom voted against the president's 2001 tax-relief package, continued to oppose any tax cuts whatsoever. That made the votes of Mrs. Snowe and Mr. Voinovich crucial to passing a Senate budget resolution supporting the president's plan.
Concerned that a potentially lengthy war with Iraq would cost far more than expected, the Senate had already reduced the House's $726 billion by $100 billion. But Mrs. Snowe and Mr. Voinovich balked at supporting a budget resolution reflecting $626 billion in tax relief. Their bottom line became $350 billion, and that's what the Senate's budget resolution authorized.
Then, Mrs. Snowe and Mr. Voinovich refused to support any budget resolution emerging from the conference committee that reflected tax relief greater than $350 billion. This forced the conference committee to produce an unusual budget resolution permitting the House's tax cut to total $550 billion and limiting the Senate's tax-relief total to $350 billion. Then, in order to garner the necessary support of Mrs. Snowe and Mr. Voinovich for that budget resolution, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley says he was forced to promise them that he "would not return from the [future] conference on the growth package with a [tax-relief] number greater than $350 billion."
A fair House-Senate compromise, of course, would have split the difference, resulting in a tax cut of about $550 billion. In fact, the White House has already agreed to lower its minimally acceptable tax-relief figure to $550 billion. President Bush has been spending the Easter recess promoting this position, including an upcoming trip to Mr. Voinovich's Ohio.
Concerns about a lengthy war in Iraq are no longer valid. Moreover, the U.S.-led coalition protected Iraq's cash-gushing oil fields, eliminating that worry as well. Meanwhile, the economy remains in its soft patch. Thus, the president is right to fight for more tax relief, totaling at least $550 billion through 2013. He surely deserves the support of his fellow Republicans, including Sens. Snowe and Voinovich.

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