- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

The legislative battle to pass President Bush's economic-growth package began yesterday with Republicans formally introducing the bill in both the House and Senate.
"America's economy needs a boost," said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, who stumped for the plan on both sides of Congress yesterday. "There can't be any doubt that this package will provide that boost."
The majority of the 10-year value of the $695 billion proposal $385 billion comes from eliminating the tax paid on corporate dividends. The rest comes from speeding tax cuts from Mr. Bush's 2001 package, accelerating the child tax credit and reducing taxes on investments by small businesses.
"The president's proposal is big enough and bold enough to actually have a positive impact on job creation," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.
But Democrats said the plan will not pass as is.
"The president's so-called stimulus package is nothing more than a sham, wrapped in spin, shrouded in deception," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who called the plan "still dead on arrival."
He said that unlike in 2001, when a handful of Democrats supported Mr. Bush's first tax-cut package, this year most of those same Democrats are concerned by deficit woes and the structure of the latest package.
"In addition to increasing the debt, the current structure of the plan will provide little immediate stimulus to the economy," said Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee and one of those supporters from 2001.
Several Republicans also have withheld their support from the president's package, and Mr. Daschle said, "There is good reason to believe there will be a bipartisan coalition in opposition to the president's tax-cut package."
But one Democrat Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia is a co-sponsor of the president's plan, and he said he expects that other Democrats will vote for it.
"When the roll is called on the president's tax cut, I will not be the only Democrat voting for it, I guarantee it," Mr. Miller said yesterday.
Democratic leaders say the tax cuts will use up resources that should go to other priorities, and they have called for a larger prescription drug benefit than the $400 billion package the president has proposed. They dismiss the administration's argument that senior citizens will benefit greatly from the president's proposal because half of all dividend income goes to seniors.
"Two out of every five elderly taxpayers would receive next to nothing from the Bush proposal less than $2 a week," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
Democrats have put forth several versions of their own tax-cut package, all of which are much smaller than the president's and would limit their costs mainly to this fiscal year. The plans also call for large transfers of money to help states cover their deficits.
But Republicans said Democrats will have to provide a bolder package to compete with the president's.
"While many of my counterparts complain about the state of the economy and the stock market, few have offered creative solutions," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican. "I challenge the detractors of the dividend-exclusion proposal to offer creative solutions of their own."
Still, Mr. Grassley stressed that the bill will have a hard time getting through his committee and the full Senate given the close partisan breakdown of the chamber.
The task should be easier in the House, where the Republicans have a wider margin and more control over the rules.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, has pledged a quick set of hearings on the tax plan to have it ready for a final floor vote by the end of March.
Although Mr. Thomas' support for the total package has been seen as questionable, he said yesterday that he is committed to producing a bill that promotes job growth and said the committee will hold "as extensive hearings as we've ever had on any particular proposal, and the committee will then begin the process of moving legislation forward to stimulate the economy."
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, has been careful to say he will defer to the Ways and Means Committee to produce whatever bill it can.
But House Republican leaders say they expect to see something close to the president's plan.
"I am confident that as the arguments are made on both sides of the aisle, the president's common-sense ideas will prevail," Mr. Hastert said. "At the end of the day, I predict that a large bipartisan majority will support this proposal to create jobs and spur economic growth."


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