- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Congress has returned from a two-week recess, and already Republican policy-makers across town are scratching their heads at what a mess is on their hands. The common view is that reconstruction of postwar Iraq is a formidable challenge and that President Bush's domestic agenda shows even less promise. It's our view that the political landscape is not as barren as it is made out to be.

Complaints over some alleged lack of progress in postwar Iraq is unfounded. The speedy victory on the battlefield was an unexpected surprise, but no one serious could next hope that building a democracy in the sand from a country ravaged by decades of dictatorship would be online in a few weeks. Electric power, food, water and normalcy are returning to Iraq on schedule. A good sign of the progress made was Mr. Bush's warm welcome by American Muslims yesterday in Dearborn, Mich., an area that is home to more than 300,000 Arab Americans and the country's largest concentration of Iraqi Americans. This community was skeptical of the war, but since has been won over.

The Republican disarray over the president's tax-cut plan, however, is an unforeseen and unpleasant problem. Legislative acquiescence to the original $726 billion package isn't even on the table. Four Republican senators have refused to support any cuts higher than $350 billion, thus siding with the Democrats to deny the necessary votes for passage. Two senators targeted for persuasion, Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio, have proven resistant. On Sunday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley said that it just might be possible to inch the recalcitrant two up to $450 billion, though that would necessitate offsetting tax increases in other areas. (Raising taxes to cut taxes seems to miss the point of the exercise.) On top of this, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas is floating an altogether new tax package. Someone's going to have to budge.

On the plus side is Mr. Bush's popularity rating, which is still around 75 percent nationwide. The conundrum is how the White House should best respond to the public's good will. With a strong hand after winning a quick and popular war, the temptation on Pennsylvania Avenue is to test the president's strength by fighting to force Senate approval of his pared-down request of $550 billion in cuts. For this option, the White House would have to be willing to wield all its political muscle to rankle Congress with no certainty of victory.

Lost in the fracas is the whole point of the tax cuts: to stimulate the economy. In the scope of a $10 trillion annual economy, even the original plan for $726 billion over 10 years is pretty small but delay takes away any potential benefit even a small cut might have. If cool analysis makes it look like the votes aren't there for a larger package, it's our judgment that the White House should cut its losses, agree to a smaller tax cut and move on to other items on the president's domestic agenda. One issue that would take months to cobble out a plan is health-care reform with a prescription-drug subsidy for seniors. The time also seems ripe for limited malpractice reform, with hospitals and doctors turning away patients because they can't afford to risk lawsuits. It will be a challenge getting these important issues tackled by spring next year the last practicable time to pass legislation before the election cycle kicks in but the hard work would be beneficial to the country and the Republican Party.

Intra-party anxieties are nothing new, but differing Republican factions will have to work together to pass major domestic legislation if the party hopes to convince voters that the GOP is an effective governing institution. It's time to get the largest tax-cut politically possible and move on.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide