- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

President Bush has called House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to a White House meeting this evening to plead for the biggest possible tax cut.
It will be the first time the congressional leaders have met face-to-face since mid-April, just after House Republicans charged that Senate leaders blindsided them in making a side deal on tax cuts.
Republican Senate leaders promised to limit tax cuts to $350 billion over 10 years in order to win support of two wavering Republicans for the budget. But House Republicans said that undercut a deal they had struck to allow for up to $550 billion in tax cuts.
Republicans said they view today's meeting as the chance for the president to plead with his party leaders for the broadest package possible.
"He wants to make another pitch on why a bigger, bolder package means more jobs and more economic growth," said one House leadership aide.
The Senate returned from a two-week recess yesterday, and the House returns from recess today.
Committees in both chambers are expected to produce tax bills next week, and key aides in both the House and Senate said the acrimony from two weeks ago, while not necessarily forgotten, will be put aside.
Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican, and Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, have both made public statements saying they want to put the matter behind them.
House Republicans were particularly encouraged when Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the Senate might be able to go above the promised ceiling of $350 billion.
The White House has endorsed the House's $550 billion tax-cut figure, down from the $726 billion the administration initially proposed. But Mr. Bush still is calling for full phase-out of double taxation of dividends, the centerpiece of his plan, as well as speeding up already-planned tax cuts.
"The president continues to support, and will fight for, a 100 percent dividend exclusion, not scaled back," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
Yesterday, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans made the case for Mr. Bush's plan in Seattle.
"In order to lead, you have to have a plan," Mr. Evans told a Newspaper Association of America's meeting. "The question opponents of the president's plan must answer is, what solution do they propose to revive economic growth? What hope, beyond new federal spending, do they offer Americans out of work?"
Democrats have proposed a plan that will cost $100 billion and put most of the money up front, with immediate aid to states and with a centerpiece tax rebate of up to $300 per individual similar to the rebate included in the 2001 tax cut.
But they have balked at supporting a bigger plan, saying the long-term deficits aren't worth it.
The administration has emphasized the number of jobs its plan would create, and a new analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers said the proposed dividend tax cut alone would boost stock values by 7 percent and create 700,000 new jobs through 2004.
Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, White House economic adviser Stephen Friedman and Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. met yesterday to plan lobbying strategy on Capitol Hill.
A key administration official said members of the president's economic team, including Mr. Snow and Mr. Evans, would be making a new round of calls on members of the Senate Finance Committee to push for the president's tax-cut plan in the coming week.
Donald Lambro contributed to this report.

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